Size Matters: how wine serving sizes impact sales and consumption

Cambridge study reveals the effect of glass size on wine sales in pubs and bars


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In the dynamic landscape of alcohol consumption and sales, a recent study from the University of Cambridge has shed light on how serving sizes can significantly impact wine sales in pubs and bars. The research, meticulously carried out over four weeks across 21 licensed premises, primarily pubs, has revealed a notable decrease in wine sales when the option of a large glass is removed from the menu.

The study, published in PLOS Medicine, meticulously measured the impact of eliminating the largest by-the-glass wine option – typically a 250ml pour – on the total volume of wine sold. The findings were clear and somewhat unexpected: an average reduction of 7.6% in wine sales was observed across the participating venues. This equates to a mean average of 420ml less wine sold per day, or approximately 2.1 liters less per week, almost equal to three regular 75cl bottles of wine.

This change in consumer behavior was closely observed by Dr. Eleni Mantzari from Cambridge's Department of Public Health and Primary Care. Dr. Mantzari noted that patrons seemed to shift towards smaller serving options but did not compensate by consuming an equivalent amount of wine in smaller glasses. This observation suggests a psychological element in consumer choice, where individuals adhere to a predetermined number of 'units' – in this case, glasses of wine – regardless of the actual volume of alcohol in each serving.

Interestingly, the study found no significant shift in customer preferences towards other alcoholic beverages like beer and cider, suggesting that the reduced wine sales were not compensated by an increase in other drink sales. Moreover, the experiment was generally well-received by customers, with only a minority of the venues receiving complaints about the absence of the larger serving size.

The implications of this study extend beyond mere sales figures. The researchers posit that reducing the largest serving size of wine can be an effective strategy in curbing overall alcohol consumption. This approach could potentially enhance population health, as emphasized by Professor Dame Theresa Marteau, the study's senior author. The strategy aligns with medical advice suggesting a limit of 14 units of alcohol per week for both men and women, with a large 250ml glass of wine containing about three units.

While the study indicated that premises did not experience a financial loss due to the removal of the largest serving size, it's important to note that this claim was not supported by specific financial data. The suggestion is that smaller serving sizes, which might have higher profit margins, could have offset any potential revenue loss.

This research contributes a vital piece to the puzzle of understanding consumer behavior in alcohol consumption. It highlights the nuanced ways in which serving size can influence purchasing decisions, and, more importantly, it offers a potential pathway for public health interventions aimed at reducing alcohol consumption without adversely affecting business revenues.

The study thus opens a new chapter in the ongoing dialogue between public health initiatives and the alcohol industry, suggesting that subtle changes in serving sizes can have a significant impact on consumer behavior and health outcomes.

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