Report promotion of discounted alcohol

Irresponsible promotion of alcohol can be seen in many places in your community.

Alcohol retailers including supermarkets, bottle stores and online companies use a vast number of promotional strategies to get customers to buy their products. Discounting, multi-buy offers and promotion of discounted alcohol products is very common. This also occurs in on-licences – bars, restaurants, etc - through promotions and 'happy hours'. Research in Australia shows that licensed premises use a large number of price promotions.

In New Zealand, the majority (55%) of drinkers report purchasing their alcohol when sold on promotion (cited in the 2014 Ministry of Justice Report). Supermarkets in New Zealand are more reliant on promotions to drive sales when compared to specialist liquor stores (e.g. bottle stores).

Of all items in supermarkets, it has been shown that sales of alcohol are the most sensitive to price promotion, particularly cask wine and beer, followed by bottled wine. Simply put, shoppers are very responsive to discounted alcohol; overall they are more responsive to alcohol prices than the prices of other individual grocery items (e.g. coffee, toilet paper, confectionery) in the supermarket.

A study of 24 off-licences in Perth and Sydney found similar results whereby supermarkets had a higher number of price promotions compared to liquor stores, and wine had the highest number of price promotions, followed by spirits, beer and RTDs.

Types of price promotions and their effects

Price promotions generally occur through 1) discounting, 2) multi-buy promotions, and 3) time-limited discounts (e.g. happy hours).

1) Price discounting

Modelling studies in the UK have shown that annual consumption would fall by 3% in Scotland and 2.8% in England, if a total off-licence discount ban was imposed. The policy was estimated to cost an average of £11 per drinker per year and affected wine prices the greatest. Polices that restricted a percentage of discounting permitted (e.g. maximum 20% discount) had smaller effects on consumption.

2) Multi-buy restrictions 

Several countries have implemented laws that prohibit multi-buy offers of alcohol. Read the Road Map for further information. In brief, the research shows little impact of these laws. This is in part due to the alcohol industry using strategies to circumvent their effects.

3) Happy hours

Some countries also ban ‘happy hours’, including Scotland, Ireland and Finland. The laws usually pertain to requiring the price of an alcohol product to be no less than that charged the previous day, or requiring an alcohol product to remain at the same price for three days or up to two months.

4) Other sales promotions and packaging

An Australian study found that drinkers who participated in in-store sales promotions reported purchasing more alcohol than those who did not participate; particularly evident for beer purchases, followed by RTDs and wine.

When young people describe the reasons for purchasing wine, they use descriptors such as ‘Price’ and ‘Cheap’. Young drinkers are very aware of in-store sale promotions so that they can maximise their alcohol purchases within their budgets. Cheap alcohol may also facilitate social get-togethers, that would not have occurred otherwise.

A US study found that alcohol products sold in larger-volume packages (e.g., 12-pack) were more likely to be promoted than smaller packages (e.g., 6-pack). This finding has significant implications for reducing the harm from heavy episodic drinking.

New Zealand laws on the discounting of alcohol

New Zealand law stipulates that any person commits an offence if they advertise discounts of 25% or more, where the advertisement can be seen or heard from outside of a licensed premises (e.g. on social and other media, billboards, shop window displays). However, discounts of 25% of more are permitted inside a licensed premise or in an off-licence price catalogue. This includes the website of the alcohol retailer.

The relevant section of our law is called Section 237, Irresponsible promotion of alcohol. This section applies to anyone undertaking a business including on-licences, off-licences, club licences and special licences and to any promotions run by a person or company which is not licensed.

It is also important to note that it is only the advertising, not the offer of the discount, that is prohibited. In other words, heavy discounting activities (e.g., 60% discounts) inside supermarkets (and other premises) continue to be seen in New Zealand, especially during the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

New Zealand laws on encouraging excessive consumption

New Zealand law requires that no business do anything that encourages people, or is likely to encourage people, to consume alcohol to an excessive extent.

Although there is no specific law against multi-buy offers or time-limited discounts, any excessive promotions could be seen to promote excessive consumption. Under our laws, it is illegal to offer free alcohol, other than samples.

Take Action Now

You can report any suspected irresponsible promotions to us.

Keep an active watch on alcohol promotions in your community

  1. Keep an active watch on price promotions in your community. You might see promotions:
  • on the internet and social media
  • on television or radio
  • on bill-boards
  • in newspapers
  • inside or outside licensed premises, etc. 

     2. You can use the checklist below to check whether the promotion breaches the law



Examples of acceptable and unacceptable promotions at on-licences and off-licences have been developed by the Health Promotion Agency.

  1. If you see anything that you are concerned about, gather and record as much evidence as you can. Note it all in the Incident Log here.
  • Note when and where you saw the promotion
  • Note the wording on the promotion - take a picture or screenshot on the promotion.

If you believe/suspect it breaches the law or warrants further investigation, you can send the Incident Log to us for advice or send it directly to the Licensing Team at your local Council. Remain in contact with them to see what the outcome of your complaint is; you may want to raise media attention to any positive results.

Encourage and support others to be active on this issue!

Using evidence at time of liquor licence renewal

If your concern relates to a promotion on, or by, a licensed premises, it can be used to object to their next licence renewal. It might be possible to add discretionary conditions to their licence, such as a restriction of single sales. An example of a single sales condition placed [[2018] ADLC 8220013176]] on an off-licence bottle store in the Auckland region is:
No single sales of:

  • Beer or ready to drink spirits (RTDs) in bottles, cans or containers of less than 440mls in volume may occur except for craft
    beer; and
  • shots or pre-mixed shots.

If they have breached the law three or more times it could be a case for a cancellation of their licence. Visit ActionPoint for more information on how to object to a licence application.

Strengthening our laws on irresponsible promotion

Our laws could be strengthened by:

  • Prohibiting multi-buy promotions;
  • Restricting the maximum discount permitted or banning all discounting of alcohol; and
  • Restricting or prohibiting time-limited discounts (e.g., ‘happy hours’)

These approaches will require legislative change. It would be preferable to ban all discounting, rather than setting any maximum limit on the permitted level of price discounting (e.g. 50%), as this would be difficult to monitor, especially when advertising of discounts predominantly occurs via personally-targeted digital media. An alternative approach would be prohibiting the advertising of prices of alcohol products.

To encourage changes to the law, we need you to speak to local MPs on this issue. Also important is media advocacy – writing a letter in your local paper, speaking to journalists, etc. They need to know about the types of harmful promotions occurring in your community.