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Multi-buy promotions

A further policy to address cheap alcohol is to restrict the use of multi-buy promotions, which offer discounts for the bulk purchase of alcohol – for example, ‘Buy One Get One Free’ and ‘Two for the Price of One’ deals.

A survey of Australian off-license customers suggested that such promotions encourage greater purchase of alcohol. A third of respondents who bought a product on offer said that bought it because it was on promotion, while two-fifths reported buying a specific quantity because of a promotion. Those who bought discounted alcohol typically bought more: for example, those who bought beer on sale bought 268g of alcohol on average, compared 161g for those who did not participate in a promotion.[1]

Multi-buy discounts were banned by the Scottish Government as part of the Alcohol Scotland Act, which came into force in October 2011.[2] NHS Health Scotland’s official evaluation of the policy found that the multi-buy discount reduced overall sales of alcohol by 2.6% in the year following its implementation, driven primarily by a 4.0% decline in wine sales.[3] However, it found no evidence to suggest this was associated with a reduction in alcohol related deaths or hospital admissions.[4] The researchers offered a number of possible explanations for this:

  • The effect on deaths and hospital admissions was too small to be demonstrated definitively
  • The effects may only emerge over a longer period
  • The effect of the intervention was to reduce consumption in lower-risk subgroups – wine is most likely to be consumed by women and affluent drinkers, who suffer lower levels of alcohol harm
  • The study used a relatively narrow definition of alcohol-related deaths, excluding conditions only partially attributable to alcohol, such as ischaemic heart disease

A separate evaluation by Nakamura et al claimed that in fact the multi-buy discount failed to reduce consumption, either.[5] However, it is important to note that this study used less reliable data, depending on self-reported purchases in consumer surveys, while the NHS Scotland study had access to retailers’ sales data. Either way, Nakamura et al’s analysis provided evidence on the limitations of the ban on multi-buy sales, finding that retailers subverted the policy by using price discounts in place of volume discounts and that consumers got around it by buying smaller amounts of alcohol less frequently.

As part of its 2012 alcohol strategy, the Westminster government carried out a consultation on the introduction of a ban on multi-buy discount across the whole UK. However, they ultimately opted against the move claiming “there is no convincing evidence that it would have a significant effect in reducing consumption”.[6]

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[1] Public Health England (2016), op. cit., p. 94

[2] BBC News (October 2011), ‘Scots ban on supermarket alcohol deals comes into force’ <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-15125064>

[3] Robinson M et al (2014)., ‘Evaluating the impact of the alcohol act on off-trade alcohol sales: a natural experiment in Scotland’, Addiction 109:12, pp. 2,035–43

[4] NHS Health Scotland (2016), ‘MESAS Final Report Appendix G – Alcohol Act’ <http://www.healthscotland.scot/publications/mesas-final-report/>

[5] Nakamura R et al (2014)., ‘Impact on alcohol purchasing of a ban on multi-buy promotions: a quasi-experimental evaluation comparing Scotland with England and Wales’, Addiction109:4, pp. 558–67

[6] Home Office (2013), op. cit., p. 3