'Aggressive' advertising linked to rise in alcohol availability

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Rising economic confidence and "aggressive" marketing techniques are the driving factors behind an 8.9 million litre rise in alcohol availability last year, says one concerned health organisation.

Latest figures from Statistics New Zealand, which compared figures over the last five years, show the total volume of alcohol available in New Zealand rose to 466 million litres last year - the equivalent of 2.1 standard drinks per person aged 18 and over per day.

It represents an increase of almost 9 million litres from 2012, according to Statistics New Zealand.

An increased amount of beer and wine on the shelves led the rise in availability, while the volume of spirits and spirit-based drinks fell.

The spike followed a 15 million litre decrease in 2012 from the year before but was still lower than a 2008 high of 486 million litres.

However, there was concern that drinkers were moving to stronger types of alcohol as further analysis of the figures showed the percentage of beer, as a proportion of total volume available, fell from 81 per cent in 1996 to 62 per cent in 2013.

Wine rose from 16 per cent to 23 per cent, and spirits and spirit-based drinks such as RTDs rose from 3 per cent to 15 per cent in the same 17-year period.

Rebecca Williams, director of Alcohol Healthwatch, said the figures appeared to confirm fears around ready-to-drink (RTDs) beverages.

"One of the worries for us has been that the RTDs ... would be exposing those young drinkers to the spirit brands and the heavier spirits, and I think that is happening," she said.

"The spirits component has increased, wine is going up on a fairly steady basis, and the worry about the wine is that it too is actually quite a larger volume of pure alcohol [per drink], so we're seeing a shift to the heavier alcohol products."

Drinks such as wine were being marketed "aggressively" in outlets like supermarkets, as well as campaigns by drinks companies, which were competing heavily with each other, she said.

The figures could show a trend back up to peak levels in 2008.

"Seeing an increase this year, seeing the economy come back on line, all of those things to me will start to signal some concerns that we could be tracking back up again," she said, saying that "when people are feeling better [financially] they spend more on booze".

However, there were some positives to be taken from the figures, Ms Williams said.

While there was an increase last year it was "not a huge'' one, and new alcohol laws, now fully in force, might have a moderating effect on further increases.

"However, with a more positive economic outlook and no controls on pricing and marketing further increases cannot be ruled out.''

Kiwis could not afford to be complacent, she said.

A spokeswoman for Countdown said it had seen a trend towards lower alcohol beer as well as craft beer and ciders, which was reflected in the Stats NZ data.

Wine sales were "fairly constant", but cider sales had grown by around 20 per cent each year for the last two years, with such data possibly contributing to the increase in the Stats NZ wine category figures, which classified cider as a non-grape wine.

The statistics were a measure of how much alcohol was available for consumption, rather than actual consumption, Stats NZ said.

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Volume of alcohol available to consume, in litres (million):

2008:

Total wine - 94.220

Total beer - 322.490

Spirit-based drinks (which includes RTDs) - 59.193

Spirits - 10.487

Total: 486.391

2009:

Total wine - 95.295

Total beer - 306.181

Spirit-based drinks (which includes RTDs) - 59.135

Spirits - 10.498

Total: 471.109

2010:

Wine - 102.614

Beer - 299.348

RTDs - 59.485

Spirits - 12.809

Total - 474.039

2011:

Wine - 97.888

Beer - 299.794

RTDs - 61.928

Spirits - 12.809

Total - 472.420

2012:

Wine - 102.218

Beer - 279.934

RTDs - 62.006

Spirits - 12.885

Total - 457.044

2013:

Wine - 105.926

Beer - 288.811

RTDs - 58.148

Spirits - 13.020

Total - 465.905

Source: Statistics New Zealand

- APNZ

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