Take-home alcohol sales 11% higher than pre-pandemic levels despite minimum unit pricing

Analysts say more time needed to isolate effect of new legislation from pandemic and cost-of-living factors

Take-home alcohol sales are 11 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels despite a new law coming into effect that increases the cost of many drinks, new figures show.

However, analysts say more time is needed to ascertain the impact of the public health law, as grocery sales in general remain higher than 2019, as well as inflationary pressures resulting in some people opting to drink at home rather than return to nights out.

Since January 4th minimum unit pricing has been in force, meaning alcohol cannot legally be sold below a certain price point determined, and directly proportional to, the amount of pure alcohol in the drink.

Under the law, an average bottle of wine cannot now be sold for less than €7.40, a can of beer costs at least €1.70 and the price of spirits has risen, with bottles of vodka or gin costing a minimum of €20.70 and whiskey at least €22.09.


The law seeks to stop strong alcohol from being sold in supermarkets and shops at very low prices, aiming to reduce alcohol-related harm.

According to figures from NielsenIQ, which collects data from supermarkets, off-licences and discount stores, volume litre of alcohol sales from the start of the year until April 24th is 11 per cent higher compared with the same period in 2019.

In 2019 some 54.4 million litres of alcohol were sold in the off-trade in the first 16 weeks of the year, compared with 60.4 million litres this year.

Year-to-date off-trade sales in Ireland have dropped by €84 million, or 22 million litres, compared with last year. The reduction is largely attributed to the closure of hospitality in the first half of 2021 resulting in more people drinking at home.

Beer sales account for 52 per cent of the decrease in value, spirits 16 per cent and wine 32 per cent.

While acknowledging that last year’s restrictions were a “key factor” in declining volumes, Nielsen data shows the reduction is sharper in Ireland than in Britain, where minimum unit pricing is not a factor.

A consumer study conducted by the company in April 2022 found 88 per cent of consumers noticed a difference in the price of alcohol products and 60 per cent said they would reduce their spend as a result.

Ruth Lloyd-Evans, senior business insights manager at NielsenIQ, said the number of economy brands of spirits has dropped, as many have been delisted due to a lower price differential.

“We are also observing a decline in unit size sold. For example, bottle sizes of 700ml and bigger previously accounted for 61 per cent share of unit sales; this has fallen back to 55 per cent,” she said.

Wine was less affected by the new rules, she said, adding that before the introduction of the new law, wines retailing for less than €7.50 accounted for less than 10 per cent of units sold.

“Within wine we have seen the most significant shift into the €9 to €10 price point. Previously this price point accounted for 26 per cent of unit sales and now accounts for 41 per cent of sales,” she added.

Ms Lloyd-Evans said more time was needed to assess the real impact of the law, due to other influential factors such as continued public caution around returning to hospitality, as well as the rising cost of living resulting in some people choosing to remain at home.

Representatives from the industry also cautioned it was too early to tell definitively what impact the new pricing was having on sales. However, anecdotally, sources said there had been a rise in sales in Border shops in Northern Ireland, and a corresponding decrease in shops south of the Border.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times