MUP x Units (abv) > £RRP : Say hello to Scotland’s new drink formula

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

01 May 2018

I didn’t know Imbibe was teaching the Open University.

We’re not. That’s the formula for Scotland’s Minimum Unit Pricing policy (MUP), which comes in force today.

Can you explain it in English?

Basically, one litre of drink can’t be sold for less than 50 pence per unit of alcohol it contains.

Come again?

It’s not as hard as it sounds. First you need the number of units of alcohol in a bottle; take the abv of the drink and multiply it by the size of the bottle in millilitres. Then divide it by 1000. So a 40% 700ml bottle of vodka would have 28 units.

Got that bit. How do you work out the pricing from there?

Multiply the number of units by the miminum unit price – £0.50. So that same bottle of vodka has to be at least £14. A 13% bottle of wine (with nine units of alcohol) can’t be sold for less than £4.50 a bottle.

Oh my god – my house pours are cheaper than that. We’re ruined!

Don’t panic. That’s the price the drinks have to be sold at to the public, not what you buy them for in the trade.

Ah. So it probably won’t affect me at all.

No. With the kind of mark-ups you get in hospitality, the on-trade are going to be untouched by this. Discount shops, supermarkets and convenience stores, however, will see a few changes.

Ha! Those off-trade losers. Serves them right.

Or to put it more tactfully, there are certainly some in hospitality who are hoping that MUP will drive people away from drinking at home and towards pubs and bars again.

Triple shots all round then!

Steady on. If your drink of choice is a two-litre bottle of cider at 7.5% abv or cut-price vodka, it’s safe to say you’re probably not that interested in the quality of the drinking out experience.

Come again?

Nobody’s going to go from chugging back bottles of Buckfast to sipping carefully-crafted Martinis.

Will it curb excess boozing?

We don’t know. MUP fans claim it will prevent dozens of deaths a year, but these things are complicated. And since Scotland is the first country in the world to introduce it we’ve no idea, frankly.

But surely if it’s more expensive people will drink less?

For sure it might stop casual drinkers buying as much as before. And yes, it can't be right that a cut-price two-litre bottle of cider at 7.5% abv can give you your entire week’s alcohol allowance for a few pounds. But serious problem drinkers are suffering from an illness rather than making a lifestyle choice. It probably won’t affect them.

So in a nutshell what do we think of it?

From an on-trade point of view, we’re broadly neutral. From a health point of view, the jury’s out.

Any more ‘sitting on the fence’ metaphors you want to hit us with?

All right sarky bum. What we would say is that we’re worried that this might be the first step on a long road. Booze has been under attack by the health lobby for a long time. Sometimes their points are justified, sometimes they’re questionable. Either way, once legislation is introduced, it has to be truly disastrous for it to be un-introduced. And taxes on booze – as we know – tend only to go in one direction.

So you’re saying that the 50p rate will go up?

We’re saying that it almost certainly won’t go down. And other countries are looking at it, too – among them Wales and Ireland.

So in our specific area it’s not bad news – but in the wider scheme of things it could be?

That’s about it. Pour yourself a super-strength cider to celebrate. If you can still afford it.

Last month, The Lancet released a report on the health effects of alcohol consumption, claiming that drinking four units a day above the government’s current safe-drinking recommendation (of two units a day) could cut life expectancy by two years.

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