British publicans see cheap supermarket alcohol as the single greatest threat to their industry, and support government action to raise prices, according to a new Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) report.

Pubs Quizzed: What Publicans Think About Policy, Public Health and the Changing Trade collects the results of a national survey of pub managers, finding that a large majority (83%) believe supermarket alcohol is too cheap, with almost half (48%) citing competition from shops and supermarkets among their top three biggest concerns. Almost three quarters (72%) of publicans believe the government should raise taxes on alcohol in supermarkets to tackle the problem.

These findings highlight divisions in the alcohol industry, with several major multinational producers actively opposing policies such as minimum unit pricing (MUP), which would increase the price of the cheapest products sold in shops and supermarkets. Legislation for MUP was passed by the Scottish Government in 2012, but implementation continues to be delayed as a result of a legal challenge by the Scotch Whisky Association, which represents firms such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard. However, Pubs Quizzed finds ordinary publicans support the measure by a margin of 2 to 1, with 41% in favour and 22% against.

Commenting on the findings of this report, IAS Chief Executive Katherine Brown said:

“The desire to support pubs has often been used as a reason to resist policies to reduce alcohol-related harm, including minimum unit pricing, increasing alcohol taxes and stricter drink-drive laws. However, Pubs Quizzed finds that publicans actually favour many of these measures, recognising cheap alcohol as a danger both to their business and to wider society.”

The report’s author, IAS Policy Analyst Aveek Bhattacharya, said:

“Supermarkets and off-licences emerged as the clear villains from our interviews with publicans. There is a widespread belief that they are undercutting local pubs and encouraging harmful drinking. Our findings suggest that whether you want to support pubs or to reduce harmful drinking, the answer is the same: increase the price of the cheapest alcohol through tax or minimum unit pricing.”

Other findings include:

  • 44% of publicans feel that the UK has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol
  • 58% of publicans in England and Wales support reducing the drink-drive limit to bring them into line with Scotland
  • Business rates are more unpopular than alcohol taxes, with 38% ranking higher rates among the top three biggest threats to their business, compared to 17% for higher alcohol taxes
  • Publicans are generally optimistic about the state of the industry, with 53% predicting that this year will be better than the last