Let’s take the lead on responsibility?
Published:  12 November, 2010

With the spotlight seldom off the practice of selling alcohol, it’s crucial the drinks industry remains alive to the issues and seizes every opportunity to debate how it can communicate its positive actions.

With a new government and yet more changes on the horizon, the need for constructive thinking remains great. Creating a platform for this dialogue is the role of the Responsible Drinks Retailing Awards, held this week in London. Organised by OLN and our sister magazine, the Morning Advertiser, the conference and ceremony bring together stakeholders, from retailers and suppliers to police forces, local authorities and policymakers.

This year, we conducted a survey into the behaviour of 500 young adults to get under the skin of a demographic frequently tarnished by headlines as a rabble of binge-drinking reprobates. If there are problems within this group of legal drinkers, should the industry and those influencing policy be doing more??Unsurprisingly, the findings supported the continuing trend of drinking more at home for a variety of reasons, but also painted a picture of how those who still visit pubs and clubs for a traditional Friday or Saturday night consume alcohol. Of those individuals who head out at the weekend, 72% said they would have a drink at home first, with the average having 3.3 drinks.

On average they’ll buy a further 5.4 drinks when out. If you consider we’re quoting the number of drinks, not the number of alcoholic units, the whole cocktail starts to get a bit heady. Should we be asking how people are still getting served at this stage of their night? Is enough being done to help empower the staff serving on the front line to feel confident to refuse a sale, or do other operational issues come into play? We know from the latest Usdaw figures that 65% of shop workers say they have been abused when asking for ID or refusing a sale – so it’s probable that pub staff have a pretty tough time too.

The research found that, on average, the sample were drinking 1.6 times a week. So long as they’re above the legal drinking age, and doing so in moderation, I don’t see a problem. Although the research didn’t specifically look at the influence of price on young people’s behaviour, further data from HIM does shed valuable light on the issue. Far from being deal junkies, only drinking alcohol because they have become hooked on cheap discounts, it’s striking that only 5% are influenced by price promotions when they’re out.

The fact that half of pubgoers say they have no idea about the price of the drink they’ve just bought suggests there are many other motivations at work. When you consider the amounts of alcohol consumed on weekend nights out, the most relevant question for a drinks industry seeking actionable solutions is why heavier drinkers feel compelled to drink to these levels.

Not an easy question to answer, but it remains central to the core debate. As a trade we need to demonstrate that we are playing our part in helping to identify the real issues, and unite to suggest a path forward. After all, politicians have made it quite clear that, if we fail, they will be forced to do it for us.

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