Sales of Buckfast soared by 40% in the year after minimum unit pricing was introduced in Scotland, figures show.

There was a 2.4% drop in alcohol sales in Scotland in the first year following MUP, while consumption increased in England and Wales and the biggest decreases tended to be in “cheap strong” lower priced drinks.

Five out of six high-strength ciders, including Frosty Jack’s, showed a substantial drop in sales, ranging from 66% to 98%.

Buckfast tonic wine was one of the few drinks that decreased in price, from 67p per unit in 2017-18 to 65p the year after, which was accompanied by a significant rise in consumption.

Scotland made history in May 2018 by becoming the first country in the world to mandate that alcohol cannot be sold for less than 50p per unit.

Public Health Scotland looked at sales data between May 2016 and April 2019 as part of its investigation into MUP, which will expire unless MSPs vote to renew it before May next year.

Analysis found the average price of alcoholic drinks in shops increased north of the border to a greater extent than in England and Wales over the same period.

READ MORE: Scotland's death toll from alcohol highest in over a decade 

Average prices in Scotland increased in the first year of the law from 60p per unit to 66p, while in England and Wales it grew from 60p to 61p.

The report also found evidence that consumers switched to smaller sized packs and lower strength products.

Experts described the findings as “good news for public health” saying the policy had done exactly what it was expected to do in prompting “a decline in sales of cheap, strong drinks”.

Buckfast, which costs around £7.99 a bottle, is twice as alcoholic as Frosty Jack’s, which saw a 90% reduction in sales. 

HeraldScotland:

Supermarket prices rose by almost 18%, from 56p to 66p per unit, while in convenience stores they went from 63p to 67p.

The analysis found the volume of alcohol sold in larger containers or multipacks declined, with around 4.5% of products sampled changing alcohol by volume (ABV) between February 2018 and February 2019 and around twice as many decreasing rather than increasing it.

The biggest decrease in sales of spirits (40%) was observed in own-brand vodka sold through supermarkets.

READ MORE: Heaviest drinking men 'drank more' after minimum pricing was introduced 

Despite a 2.4% decline in alcohol sales overall, the monetary value increased by 7.8% in the first year of MUP – more than in England and Wales.

Colin Angus, a researcher at Sheffield University’s Alcohol Research Group, which provided modelling to the Scottish Government in relation to MUP said: “MUP had the expected impacts on the prices of alcoholic products – with cheap, strong drinks such as Frosty Jack’s cider seeing the biggest increase in prices – and that these increases were followed by a fall in alcohol sales. 

“The figures for Buckfast are certainly eye-catching, although it’s worth noting that Buckfast was generally sold at above the 50p/unit MUP threshold prior to MUP being introduced, so we wouldn’t have expected to see it increase in price. Buckfast sales were also rising prior to MUP being introduced.

“This makes it very hard to establish whether the 40% increase in sales is a response to Buckfast cutting their prices, or drinkers switching to Buckfast from other products whose prices did increase when MUP was introduced.”

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Mr Angus has said previously that despite Buckfast’s toxic reputation in the west of Scotland it was less commonly consumed among those struggling with alcoholism.

A spokesman for Aston Manor, which produces Frosty Jack’s cider, said it was important to note that the total white cider market accounted for around 0.2% of all alcohol prior to the policy.

He added: “We have been consistent in our view that this policy is a flawed approach to tackling the harm from the alcohol misuse of a small minority of people. 

“One clear reason being that MUP prompts many drinkers to simply switch purchases – the exceptional growth in sales, just in Scotland, of products like Buckfast Tonic Wine would appear to be evidence of this.”

Paul Waterson, media spokesman for the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), said it remained concerned that supermarkets were “manipulating prices to keep volumes high” and called for the MUP to be increased.

HeraldScotland:

Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said “Increasing the price of alcohol is one of the most effective and cost-effective policy measures to reduce alcohol consumption and harm. 

“This research shows that people in Scotland respond to price. Now that we know the policy has reduced consumption in Scotland, the Scottish Government must optimise its impact to save and improve more lives. 

“This is particularly important given the significant increase in alcohol specific deaths of 22% over the last two years.”

Scotland’s Public Health Minister Maree Todd said:“This report shows that the introduction of a minimum unit pricing has driven down consumption of cheap high-strength alcohol which is often drunk by people drinking at harmful levels.

 “Alcohol harms cause misery for not just the drinker but also for families, friends and the wider community, but we recognise that it is often a consequence of wider societal issues which is why we are doing all we can to help people get the support they need.

“We are currently reviewing minimum unit pricing and will soon consult on restrictions on the marketing of alcohol.”