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What is the alcohol industry?

The alcohol industry can be defined in different ways, with no agreed settled definition. The term is most commonly used to refer to corporations engaged in the production of alcoholic beverages. However, broader definitions also exist. The World Health Organization, for example, refers to “developers, producers, distributors, marketers and sellers of alcoholic beverages”.[1] Alcohol researchers have observed that:

The alcoholic beverage industry includes producers, wholesalers and distributors, point-of-sale operators (whether licensed or not) and hospitality providers such as hotels or cafés that serve alcohol. Its production and distribution arms are allied closely with agriculture, trucking, capital goods manufacturing and packaging industries.[2]

In the broadest terms, the alcohol industry consists of all the companies that participate in the alcohol value chain, and so contribute to bringing alcohol to consumers. These companies fall into five categories:

  • Raw materials suppliers: Primarily farmers, who grow ingredients such as barley, hops, apples, grapes and sugar
  • Producers: Companies that manufacture alcohol, managing processes such as brewing, distillation, and bottling
  • Distributors & Wholesalers: Intermediaries who connect producers and vendors, typically storing and transporting the product
  • Vendors: Sellers of alcohol – both on-licence (where drinks are bought and consumed on the premises e.g. pubs, club and restaurants) and off-licence (where the drinks are bought and then taken away to be consumed e.g. supermarkets)
  • Input Suppliers/Contractors:  Companies that supply products and services to any of the above e.g. providing farm machinery, distillation equipment, freight services, marketing, consultancy, lobbying etc.





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[1] World Health Organization (2010), Global Strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol

[2] Jernigan, D. H. (2009), The global alcohol industry: an overview, Addiction 104 (Suppl. 1), p. 6