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How much do people pay for alcohol?

To allow comparisons between different types of drinks of varying strengths, alcohol prices are often expressed in terms of price per unit (where a unit is equivalent to 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol). Data from NHS Health Scotland’s Monitoring and Evaluating Scotlands Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) project reveals the average price per unit paid for different products in different retail locations.

Figure 1 shows that alcohol prices paid in the on-trade (pubs, clubs, bars, restaurants and hotels) are on average three times higher than those in the off-trade (supermarkets and off-licences).[1]

Figure 2 shows that on average, people pay more for spirits and beer than they do for wine and cider, and that in general, perry (pear ciders) is sold extremely cheaply.[2]

These are average figures, and so do not account for the substantial variation in price within product types. Figure 3 shows that over 90% of perries are sold for less than 35p per unit.[3]

However, cider is sold for a wider range of prices – over half of cider is sold for less than 40p per unit, but 21% retails for over 60p – a higher share than for beer. Note that these numbers relate only to the off-trade, and so are not directly comparable with figure 2.


The price paid for alcohol also varies significantly between individuals. Unsurprisingly, richer and less heavy drinkers tend to buy more expensive drinks. Holmes et al have quantified this, using national survey data to estimate the proportion of different groups’ consumption that is below a proposed minimum unit price of 45p (in 2011 prices).[4]

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[1] NHS Health Scotland (2016), Alcohol retail sales dataset 1994 to 2015 – May 2016, ‘MESAS alcohol sales and price update May 2016’ <>

[2] Ibid

[3] NHS Health Scotland (2016), Off-trade alcohol sales price distribution 2009-2015, ‘MESAS alcohol sales and price update May 2016’ <>

[4] Holmes J et al (2014), Effects of minimum unit pricing for alcohol on different income and socioeconomic groups: a modelling study, ‘The Lancet’, 383:9929, pp. 1655–64