The introduction of minimum unit pricing (MUP) for alcohol in Wales, due to take place on March 2, has the potential to radically alter the shape of the market, according to Robert Botkai, partner of law firm Winckworth Sherwood.
The new law is similar to legislation introduced in Scotland in 2018, and will require retailers and bars to charge a minimum of 50p per unit. Botkai said: “To put this in context, a can of super-strength lager may previously have retailed for £1 per can; following the introduction of MUP the price will be £2.25. A 2.5 litre bottle of white cider which can currently be purchased for less than £4 will see its price increase to £9.40.”
In Scotland, he said, the policy has had the strongest sales impact on products which were previously sold below the 50p per unit minimum. Sales of white cider have dropped by 73%, while products previously sold around the minimum price have seen a slight increase in sales. The additional price of the alcohol sold to consumers is not a tax and is retained by the retailers.
As in Scotland there will be rules regarding promotions which state that where alcohol is supplied in multi-buy transactions, including buy one get one free offers and staff discounts, the total price must be above the MUP as if the promotion were not applied.
Retailers in breach of MUP may be issued with a fixed penalty notice which is currently set at £200. If such a notice is not complied with, then local authorities have powers to proceed with convictions, or to “take any other steps” with a view to reducing the incidence of offences, which may include licence reviews.
Botkai warns: “To ensure compliance, retailers will need to carefully review their pricing structures and upcoming promotions. In particular, care should be taken to ensure that special offers run in England are not replicated in Wales and Scotland without being reviewed in light of MUP. Current or future stock with prices printed on packaging must also be assessed, and the packaging covered or removed in order not to violate the rules or mislead the public.”
He concluded: While there are no plans as yet to introduce a similar policy in England, Public Health England has confirmed that it will undertake a review of alcohol strategy and assess whether there is a case for introducing MUP.”