Alcohol sales fell to 26-year low in 2020

Minister welcomes figures but pledges further action

Overall alcohol consumption in Scotland fell to a 26-year low during 2020, according to a comprehensive report published today by Public Health Scotland.

The annual Monitoring and Evaluating Scotland’s Alcohol Strategy (MESAS) report brings together data on alcohol consumption, price and related harms into a single publication. It shows that total alcohol sales fell 5% on the previous year, to the lowest level recorded since 1994.

Last year, COVID-19 restrictions affected alcohol sales from premises such as pubs, clubs, and restaurants.  Nine in every ten units of alcohol sold in Scotland in 2020 were sold via off-trade outlets including supermarkets and other off-licences – an increase from seven in every ten units in 2019.

In addition to the evidence from 2020 – the year of the pandemic – today’s MESAS report also details a 10% year-on-year reduction in the number of deaths wholly caused by alcohol in 2019.

Commenting on the results of the studies, Public Health Minister Maree Todd said:

“I welcome this report showing that total alcohol sales in 2020 fell to their lowest level for 26 years.

“The study provides valuable insight allowing us to gauge the impact of alcohol sales and consumption during the period of the pandemic. Clearly COVID-19 and the associated restrictions have had a dramatic impact on the hospitality trade, but these figures demonstrate that the restrictions in place did not simply translate into an increase in the total amount of alcohol being consumed. In fact, the opposite is the case.

“We have already seen that alcohol sales were falling since the introduction of our world-leading Minimum Unit Pricing policy in 2018. We know that it will take longer for the full impact of reduced consumption to feed through into health related statistics, but I am more convinced than ever that MUP is one of the main drivers in reducing alcohol harms. 

“Although this is the largest recorded year-on-year reduction in alcohol sales – and also the narrowest recorded gap between sales north and south of the border – it is important to bear in mind that the average number of units drunk during this period was still nearly 30% per cent more than the UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of drinking no more than 14 units a week.

“In addition to these 2020 figures, the report also details a 10% reduction in the number of deaths caused wholly by alcohol in 2019. While we are on the right trajectory, this still equates tragically to nearly 20 deaths every week across Scotland - each one preventable.

“We continue to make progress in reducing inequalities across a number of public health areas - remaining focussed on addressing the underlying causes that drive health inequalities and doing more to address harms from alcohol. I am determined to build on this progress including consulting on potential restrictions to alcohol advertising and promotion.”


A previously published report from Public Health Scotland, in March 2021, shows that the introduction of MUP in Scotland was associated with a net reduction in per adult off-trade alcohol sales of 2% in Scotland in the 12 months following the implementation of MUP.  Public Health Scotland will publish further findings on consumption and harm to health in due course. The complete findings will be reported in 2023.

In 2020 64% of the pure alcohol sold in Scotland was recorded as being sold at between 50.0p and 64.9p per unit, compared with 32% before Minimum Unit Pricing (MUP) was implemented.


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