Alcohol industry sheds a billion units to cut hospital admissions and 1,000 deaths

Published on Friday, 23 March 2012 10:59
Posted by Matthew Abbott

A billion units of alcohol will be shed by the alcohol industry through an ambitious plan to help customers drink within guidelines, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced today. The initiative, which is part of the Responsibility Deal, is being spearheaded by 34 leading companies behind brands like Echo Falls, First Cape and Heineken and will see a greater choice of lower strength alcohol products and smaller measures by 2015.

Market intelligence suggests consumers are increasingly looking for lower strength wines. In the past year, demand for lower and non-alcoholic beer has soared by 40 per cent across all retailers.

Key commitments include new and lighter products, innovating through existing brands and removing products from sale. They include:

  • Sainsbury’s have pledged to double the sales of lighter alcohol wine and reduce the average alcohol content of own brand wine and beer by 2020;
  • 25 million units will be gradually removed from Accolade Wines including Echo Falls Rosé and Echo Falls White Zinfandel;
  • Brand Phoenix - have committed to taking 50 million units of alcohol out of their wines - by reducing 0.8 per cent ABV on all FirstCape full strength red wines;
  • Molson Coors, the UK’s largest brewer, has committed to remove 50 million units by December 2015;
  • 100 million units will be removed by Heineken;
  • own brand super-strength lager will be removed from sale by wholesaler Makro;
  • Tesco, the leading retailer for low alcohol drinks, will reduce the alcohol content of its own-label beer and cider and expand its range of lower alcohol wines and beers, already the biggest selling range in the UK.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said:

“The Responsibility Deal shows what can be achieved for individuals and families when we work together with industry. We know it is an ambitious challenge to work in this way but our successes so far clearly demonstrate it works. We will work hard to engage even more businesses and get bigger results.

“Cutting alcohol by a billion units will help more people drink sensibly and within the guidelines. This pledge forms a key part of the shared responsibility we will encourage as part of the alcohol strategy.”

Companies have committed to a wide range of innovative and creative ways of helping their customers to drink within the guidelines. This includes improving consumer choice by lowering the strength of existing brands, introducing new lower strength products, nudging people towards smaller sizes and other marketing and promotional activity to encourage their customers to switch to lower unit drinks rather than similar drinks with a higher unit content.

Estimate suggest that in a decade, removing one billion units from sales would result in almost 1,000 fewer alcohol related deaths per year; thousands of fewer hospital admissions and alcohol related crimes, as well as substantial savings to health services and crime costs each year.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davis said:

"Drinking too much is a major public health issue. By cutting out units from many of our best-known brands, this initiative will help people to continue to enjoy a sensible drink while lowering their unit consumption.”

Henry Ashworth, Portman Group and co-Chair of the Responsibility Deal Alcohol network said:

“This is a great example of how producers, wholesalers, retailers and convenience stores are responding to changing consumer demands and showing how social responsibility and commercial success can go hand in hand. We are committed to offering a wider choice of drinks with a bit less alcohol that will also help more people to drink within recommended guidelines.”

Mark Bellis, Faculty of Public Health and co-Chair of the Responsibility Deal Alcohol network said:

"The past thirty years have seen a steady increase in the strength of beers and wines. Reversing this trend by switching sales to lower strength drinks could help reduce the alcohol problems we’ve seen grow over recent decades. Making this pledge work is not just about increasing sales of lower alcohol drinks. For real public health benefits, industry must also reduce sales of higher strength products.”

Simon Antrobus, Chief Executive of Addaction said:

"This is a welcome step in the right direction, it helps to both raise awareness of the harm drinking can cause and brings us closer to changing the UK's risky relationship with alcohol.

“At Addaction, we hear every day about the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption. People who come to us for support tell us that, over the past two decades, the drinks they drink are getting stronger and how it doesn't take much for someone to drink more than they should to stay healthy. Should a woman have more than one large glass of wine, for example, then she'll already have drunk over the recommended daily limit.

“Action taken by the drinks industry to lower the strength of alcohol is a welcome move but, if we want these important steps to help change behaviour in the UK, they have to be part of a wider series of actions that includes steps to address underage drinking and availability, as well as the provision of more specialist support for those who need it.”

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