It is important to learn about the alcohol industry as they have a large influence on national and local alcohol decisions in New Zealand.
In New Zealand, the production and sale of alcohol is a multi-billion dollar industry. The key players can be broadly categorised into four groups:
- Growers – e.g. vineyards;
- Manufacturers - wineries, breweries and distillers;
- Retail distributors - supermarkets, bottle stores, grocery stores
- Hospitality sector – cafés, restaurants, bars and clubs.
This section will focus on the alcohol industry as it relates to consumption in New Zealand.
Background: What New Zealanders drink
Amount of alcoholic beverages we drink
Because a tax is placed on all alcohol beverages, every 3 months (when the amount of tax paid on alcohol is released) we can see how much alcohol is available for consumption in New Zealand and how much is exported. From the domestic figures released by Statistics New Zealand, in the year 2021:
499 million litres of alcoholic drinks were available for domestic consumption:
- 292 million litres of beer,
- 107 million litres of wine,
- 100 million litres of spirits and spirit-based drinks.
New Zealanders drink more beer by volume - we drink over 2.7 times as much beer than wine, and 2.9 times as much beer than spirits & spirit-based drinks.
Volume of pure alcohol from these beverages
The same volume of different beverages can contribute different amounts of alcohol for consumption. For example, one litre of spirits has a higher alcohol content than one litre of beer.
Therefore in terms of pure alcohol available, each type of alcoholic beverages contributes a similar proportion of pure alcohol:
- 13 million litres of pure alcohol comes from beer,
- 11 million litres from wine,
- and 12 million litres from spirits and spirit-based drinks.
This totals 36 million litres of pure alcohol per year or 8.7 litres per person aged over 15 years. This means that every New Zealander drinks an average of almost 2 standard drinks per day. However, in reality, we know that rather than New Zealanders drinking small amounts daily, almost half of all alcohol (46%) in New Zealand is consumed in heavy drinking sessions.
Generally, about 87% of all the alcohol sold in New Zealand is produced locally, and 13% is imported. Bottled spirits are more frequently imported in comparison to beer and RTDs which are often made in New Zealand. We also export about 33% of all alcohol made in New Zealand.
The largest producers of alcohol in New Zealand
The two major alcohol producers in New Zealand are Lion Pty Ltd and DB Breweries Ltd. Both companies are owned overseas. Among the top five producers, only Delegat’s wine is a New Zealand-owned company.
The beer industry
Two major breweries dominate the New Zealand beer market: Lion and DB Breweries. The key consumers of beer in New Zealand are young adult males.
Although beer became available in supermarkets in 1999, there has been a downward trend in the volume of beer sold in New Zealand, from 322.5 million litres in 2008 to 279.9 million litres in 2012. Since then, there appeared to have an increasing trend in the volume of beer available for consumption. In 2021, there were 291.9 million litres of beer available for consumption.
Recent trends show that there has been growth in sales volumes of premium brand craft beers and also in low-strength beer (following the introduction of the lower blood alcohol limits for drivers in 2014). In 2021, the volume of high-strength beer ( was over 5.4 times the volume in 2010, and now comprises over 16% of the total volume of beer available to the New Zealand market.
The wine industry
There are 717 wineries in New Zealand. By far the biggest wine producers in New Zealand are Lion (Japan), Pernod Ricard (French), Treasury Estate Wines (NZ), Delegat's Wine Group (NZ), Constellation Wines (USA), and Villa Maria (NZ).
Since becoming available for sale in supermarkets in 1989, consumption of wine has more than doubled since 1984 to 95 million litres in 2009. In 2020, there were 107 million litres of wine available for consumption. New Zealand research has shown that the introduction of wine into supermarkets had a significant impact on consumption. Today, around 60% of all wine is sold through supermarkets.
Wine has shown the greatest increases in affordability over time. Today, New Zealanders drink almost twice as much white wine as red wine.
Wine contributes significantly to trade. It is New Zealand’s fifth largest export good.
It is important to note that New Zealand is only major wine producing nation to have a single industry body, representing and advocating for the interests of its entire grape and wine industry. This is called the New Zealand Winegrowers Association.
Spirits, RTDs, and Liqueurs
In 2021, around 100 million litres of spirits and spirit-based (RTDs & Liqueurs) beverages were available for domestic consumption (rose 11.6 per cent from the previous year). The volume of spirits increased from 9.4 million litres in 2003 to 15.9 million litres in 2021 (rose 2.3 per cent from 2020). The volume of spirit-based beverages increased from 34.5 million litres in 2003 to around 83.8 million litres in 2021 (rose 11.6 per cent from 2020).
In 2010, Minister of Justice Simon Power announced plans to prohibit the sale of RTDs with greater than 5% alcohol content or 1.5 standard drinks per container. However, this plan never came to fruition and the Government decided not to introduce regulations regarding the maximum strength of an RTD, but rather, permit manufacturers to set up their own rules. The industry decided that the maximum strength of an RTD would be 7% or two standard drinks per bottle or can.
Spirits are consumed by all age groups and across both sexes. Pure spirits are more often consumed by older age groups whilst RTDs are preferentially consumed by young men and women.
The contribution of spirits and spirits-based drinks to New Zealand’s pure alcohol intake has been increasing over time, from 23.4% in 2005 to 31.6% in 2020. There is strong evidence since the introduction of RTDs into the market increased alcohol consumption markedly among young females aged 14 to 17 years.
The largest retailers of alcohol in New Zealand
In New Zealand, the purchasing of alcohol from off-licences has increased over time. From 1986 to 2016, the proportion of all alcohol sold was from off-licences increased from approximately 59% to 75%.
The 3000-plus off-licences in New Zealand comprises bottle stores, grocery stores, supermarkets, winemakers, taverns/hotels, breweries, catering companies, and others. Over one-third of off-licences are standalone bottle stores, whilst >10% are grocery stores, and >10% are supermarkets.
The supermarket (which can only sell beer, wine (includes cider) and mead) is the most widely used channel for purchasing alcohol.
Alcohol sales from supermarkets have changed considerably over time. In 2000, the supermarket share of beer sales was 12% and for wine it was 43%. In 2008, they sold around 30% of all beer and just under 60% of all wine. In 2008 it was estimated that beer and wine sales in supermarkets were worth $1 billion.
There are two major supermarket chains in New Zealand: Woolworth New Zealand (184 Countdown stores, 62 Fresh Choice and Supervalue stores) and Foodstuffs (140 New World stores, >50 PaknSave stores, 240 Four Square stores).
The Ministry of Justice has stated that the price is so cheap that many smaller bottle stores buy their alcohol products from supermarkets.
Today, around 250,000 residents of West Auckland cannot buy alcohol from their supermarkets as off-licence supply is controlled by the Portage and Waitakere Licensing Trusts. No supermarkets in the Invercargill Licensing Trust can sell alcohol.
There are almost 1000 bottle stores in New Zealand. It is important to know that many of these are owned by larger alcohol producers and retailers.
For example, Liquorland and Henry’s Beer Wines & Spirits are owned by Foodstuffs. In 2016, Foodstuffs bought the retail chain The Mill Liquorsave from Independent Liquor Ltd, and rebranded them as Liquorland stores. Liquor King, is owned by Lion.
Hospitality sector (on-licences)
The number of on-licences has trebled from 2423 in 1990 to 7565 in 2010. From 2000 to 2009 there was a 26% increase in the number of pubs and a 37% increase in the number of licensed cafés and restaurants.
The NZ Hospitality Association plays a major role in the supply of alcohol in the on-licence sector, representing 3,000 hospitality and commercial accommodation businesses throughout the country. The Association advocates on behalf of its members. They have been involved as an interested party in the appeals to Local Alcohol Policies around New Zealand.
The Restaurant Association of New Zealand also represents the interests of those working in the restaurant business.
Drinking patterns among adults aged 45 years and above
Alcohol use among older age remains common, although it decreases with advancing age.
In 2020/21, more than three-quarters (average 76.5%) of every age group over 45 years reported drinking in the past year. More than 75% of men in these older age groups reported drinking.
More than 3 in every 4 NZ adults aged 45+ have consumed alcohol in the past year
The prevalence of drinking in the past year among older men and women is shown below:
Hazardous drinking patterns remain prevalent throughout older New Zealanders
New Zealanders aged 45 years and above comprised ~41% (337,000) of all hazardous drinkers in 2020/21.
Whilst 18 to 24 year olds maintain the highest (34.9%) prevalence of hazardous drinking in the country (41% among men aged 18-24 years), hazardous drinking patterns remain prevalent throughout older age groups in New Zealand, particularly among men. In 2020/21, the prevalence of hazardous drinking among men was:
- 30.9% among men aged 45-54 years;
- 26.6% among men aged 55-64 years;
- 17.5% among men aged 65-74 years, and
- 7.3% among men aged 75 years and above.
A substantial proportion of older men drink hazardously, placing themselves and others at risk of harm
Substantial increases in hazardous drinking prevalence among older adults
Of particular concern, there have been significant increases in hazardous drinking over time among older age groups in New Zealand. Following declines in hazardous drinking between 2006/07 and 2011/12, the prevalence of hazardous drinking increased from 2011/12 to 2015/16. These increases were substantial:
- increased by more than 50% among those aged 45-54 years (11.7% to 18.5%);
- increased by more than 70% among those aged 55-64 years (8.4% to 14.4%); and
- almost doubled for those aged 65-74 years (from 5.5% to 10%).
Therefore, all of the positive reductions in drinking that had been achieved between 2006/07 and 2011/12 were lost by 2015/16. The level of increase was so great that some age groups (35-44yrs, 45-54yrs, 65-74yrs) had significantly higher levels of hazardous drinking in 2015/2016 than in 2006/07.
No real change in the prevalence of hazardous drinking in the past six years of comparable surveys (between 2015/16 and 2020/21). Compared to 2019/20, there was a significant reduction in hazardous drinking among the the 45-54 yrs age group in 2020/21 (note that last year showed a big one-off spike in drinking in this group; it has now returned to usual levels).
Should these trends continue, older people will represent a much greater proportion of hazardous drinkers in New Zealand. This is due to the population of older adults being predicted to double by the year 2036 (based on the projection from 2013). At this point, approximately 24% of the population will be aged 65 years and over. High levels of alcohol use in older populations will have significant implications on our strained healthcare system and will compromise well-being in older adults.
Other drinking measures of older adults
The annual New Zealand Health Surveys utilise the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) to assess the prevalence of hazardous drinking in New Zealand. However, this test is not age-specific. Other measures have been developed to quantify alcohol use in older people. This includes the CARET (Comorbidity Alcohol Risk Evaluation) that takes into account other factors that relate to alcohol use and harm among older adults, not just an older person’s drinking frequency and quantity. A report into older people's drinking can be found here.
Comparisons with other countries
New Zealand drinkers were found to have some of the highest levels of drinking across the countries studied. The proportion of frequent heavy drinkers was higher in New Zealand compared with most countries, including England and the United States.
The differential effects of alcohol use on older adults
No safe level of alcohol use exists for older adults.
Older adults are more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol at any level of consumption. The same amount of alcohol produces a higher blood alcohol concentration in older than younger adults due to changes in body composition, leading to a longer time for the acute effects of alcohol to diminish. The ability to absorb, metabolise, and excrete alcohol remains largely unchanged with increasing age.
Conditions such as chronic health problems, medication interaction, and other risky behaviours including drinking driving, further contribute to more harmful effects of alcohol on older adults.
Although there has been debate over the potential “health benefits” from low-risk drinking (particularly for older drinkers), recent research suggests that the findings of benefit were more likely the result of methodological differences in studies and under-adjustment for confounding factors (e.g. personal characteristics, socioeconomic status) that relate to different drinking patterns within the population. It is advised that there is no overall positive health benefit for older adults from drinking.
New Zealand research supports the findings that there are differences in the characteristics of older drinkers who have moderate versus high-risk intakes. It is important to take into account of these differences when examining health outcomes from drinking. The former were more likely to be wealthier, whilst the latter were more likely to have lower levels of economic standards than other drinking profiles.
For more information, check this button RESEARCH ON OLDER NEW ZEALANDERS' ALCOHOL USE
|FACTSHEET: DRINKING IN THE PAST YEAR|
Alcohol causes more harm to the fetus than other drugs
It does not matter what type of alcohol is consumed, it immediately crosses into the baby’s bloodstream via the placenta and adversely impacts normal development.
Alcohol is recognised as the ‘heavy hitter’ causing more damage to the fetus than other recreational substances such as tobacco, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine or marijuana.
There is no 'safe' level of alcohol use in pregnancy
Drinking to intoxication places a developing embryo and fetus at the greatest risk of harm. However, medical research has not been able to establish a safe amount that all pregnant women can drink and there are studies showing harm at very low level. Therefore, ther advice of many health authorities across the world is - Do not drink alcohol if you are pregnant, could be pregnant or when breastfeeding.
For more information, check out HPA's alcohol.org.nz website -
- Drinking advice for women who could be pregnant, are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant - https://www.alcohol.org.nz/alcohol-its-effects/alcohol-and-pregnancy/what-you-need-to-know
- Alcohol & pregnancy - https://www.alcohol.org.nz/alcohol-its-effects/alcohol-pregnancy
New Zealand has an FASD Action Plan
In 2016, the Government took steps to develop New Zealand’s first FASD Action Plan ‘Taking Action on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder 2016-2019 – An Action Plan’. (FASD Working Group 2016).
The Plan is a multiagency approach across health, justice, and social sectors to guide policy and service delivery within communities to prevent FASD and improve outcomes for those affected by it.
The plan targets early intervention with those thought to be at high-risk of drinking during pregnancy.
Changes to the drinking environment to reduce alcohol availability were not included in the plan. It is well-known that the wider drinking culture is a strong determinant of the prevalence of drinking during pregnancy. Therefore, we need to take a multi-pronged approach to reduce the harm from FASD.
Although improvements have been occurring regarding FASD diagnosis, children with significant learning and behaviour problems linked to prenatal alcohol exposure remain undiagnosed within our health services and ineligible for extra support. Families living with FASD remain ineligible for respite care.
Ministry of Education FASD Guide for teachers
The Ministry of Education have produced an Inclusive Education FASD Guide for teachers http://inclusive.tki.org.nz/guides/fasd/.
There are two important components in preventing the harm from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder:
- Preventing FASD by supporting alcohol-free pregnancies
- Enabling effective and appropriate care for persons affected by FASD
There is strong evidence that both components are essential in reducing harm from this preventable disability. Click below to learn more or click the button for the Health Promotion Agency infosheet.
On the spot - take action immediately
Stopping someone from getting behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking could save their life and the lives of innocent others.
If it is an emergency - call 111 and provide the details to emergency services.
If it is safe to do so, take their keys off them and offer to find them a safe ride home.
If the risk of drink driving is associated with a licensed premise - advise the licensee or duty manager of the risk and remind them of their duties to support safe transport options.
If the person has been drinking on a licensed premise and appears intoxicated then report the incident to the local licensing team and/or Police. See the Licensing section for more information.
Be a positive role model
Always drive sober and encourage members of your family/whanau to do likewise.
If you are hosting a family/whanau gathering or event, be a responsible host – e.g. make it alcohol-free, or have a range of alcohol-free options available, arrange a place for people to stay or a safe ride home if they’ve been drinking. See Places and Events for more information on planning events.
Spread the word
Take opportunities as they arise to discuss drink-driving, its risks and consequences with your family/whanau.
Develop some safety protocols/kawa with your family/whānau. These can focus on how to avoid the risks of drinking and driving, and having a plan to get home safely should that be necessary.
Start a group or if you are already part of a group or network you can plan initiatives to reduce drinking and driving in your community. For more information on doing this see Mobilising Others.
Assist people to get the help they need
If you have any concerns about someone you know who is drinking and driving assist them or their family to get professional help.
Help can be reached at your GP/local medical centre, school counsellor or local Community Alcohol and Drug Service.
The Alcohol and Drug Helpline is a useful starting point for anyone who has concerns about their own or others drinking. They will be able to support you towards the best course of action and local services including youth services - 0800 787 797.
Advocate to increase the number of random breath tests
To ensure our drink driving limits are effective, we need to enforce them. However, random breath test numbers have been declining substantially and we need to increase them to the point of one test per year per licensed driver. That would mean around 3 million tests per year. A lot more than what we are currently doing.
Speak to your local MP about this issue.
Change the wider environment to change our drinking culture
By reducing the amount of alcohol consumed, we can help reduce drink driving.
The most effective measures to reduce the amount we drink are listed below. Read each section to find out how you can take action on these environmental factors that support low-risk drinking.
You can mobilise others to:
New Zealand has a Vision Zero approach to road deaths - where no-one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes. This cannot be achieved without strong action on alcohol.
Drink driving doesn't just harm the driver - passengers and other road users (including pedestrians) are also killed or injured in alcohol-related road crashes.
Between 2017 and 2019, for every 100 alcohol or drug-impaired drivers or riders who died in road crashes, 27 of their passengers and 32 other road users died with them.
The risk of crashing increases with the amount of alcohol in the blood at the time of driving. Road traffic crashes involving alcohol are more likely to result in death or severe injuries.
On the spot - Address any immediate health and safety issues
If you are concerned about your safety, or that of others, call emergency services on 111.
When any urgent matters are under control and if you feel it is safe to do so, look to minimise any further consumption and risks. Get assistance with this if possible.
If you see an intoxicated person in a licensed premises (e.g pub, night club) alert the duty manager, and/or the Police on 111. If you know that an intoxicated person has been drinking at a particular licensed premises, then follow the above.
Spread the word - Promote informed choice
As opportunities arise guide people in your life to relevant information on alcohol and to the low-risk drinking guidelines.
Develop some safety protocols/kawa with your family/Whānau. These can focus on how to avoid drinking excessively, and what to do if they are in trouble.
If you have a group or network that you belong to, work together to raise awareness in your community about alcohol and share relevant information and links to low-risk drinking guidelines or other tools.
Assist people to get the help they need
If you have any concerns about the alcohol use of people in your life, assist them or their family to get professional help.
- Help can be reached at your GP/local medical centre, school counsellor or local Alcohol and Drug Service.
- The Alcohol and Drug Helpline is a useful starting point for anyone who has concerns about their own or others drinking. They will be able to support you towards the best course of action and local services including youth services - 0800 787 797.
Change the wider environment to change our drinking culture
Take action on environmental factors which support low-risk drinking. For example, foster and mobilise others to:
Alcohol is a toxin the body wants to get rid of
When alcohol is consumed, the human body is alerted and will start to eliminate it. The liver does much of this process.
It takes around one hour for a healthy liver to process a single standard drink. This is only an average, a person's other health issues will impact this.
Drinking more than one standard drink in an hour will mean that the liver cannot keep up, and the alcohol will build up and start to be absorbed into the blood stream.
This leads to a range of impairments;
- Initially, the drinker will experience light-headedness and feelings of euphoria – generally these are pleasant. They are the early signs of impairment.
- Balance and movement will be affected – increasing the risk of falls and other injuries.
- Slowed reaction times – slowing essential skills needed for driving, cooking, looking after children etc.
- Impaired judgement – increasing the risk of aggression, and making poor choices such as driving, or getting into a car with someone intoxicated, or continuing to drink, or having sex you later regret.
- Changed mood and emotional state – this can lead to missing or misinterpreting social cues increasing the risk of aggression and violence, depression.
- “Hangover” – the after effects of heavy drinking can carry over into the next day. This might affect the ability to attend work, school or university, look after children or other responsibilities.
Continued consumption can lead to black-outs and alcohol poisoning.
As well as injuries and violence, heavy consumption of alcohol can have significant and long-term effects on the body including brain damage, liver damage and failure.
The law on intoxication
New Zealand does not have any laws against being intoxicated or drunk. Rather, the Police can apprehend persons if they are creating disorder.
There are a number of offences related to intoxication. Most of these relate to licensed premises. You can read them here.
For example, a licensed premises MUST NOT:
- Sell or supply alcohol to an intoxicated person
- Allow a person to become intoxicated on their premises
- Allow a person who is intoxicated to remain in the licensed premises
In addition, it is illegal for anyone under 18 to be drinking in a public place (without their parent/guardian).
Factors which facilitate heavy drinking in New Zealand
There are a number of factors in our environment which facilitate heavy drinking:
- licensed premises open late at night and early morning,
- a high number of licensed premises in an area
- high exposure to alcohol marketing and promotion,
- cheap alcohol products
- certain types of products such as Ready-to-drinks (RTDs)
- availability of higher strength beverages.
Screening for hazardous drinking
The earlier we intervene on hazardous drinking, the less harm will result.
Ideally, everyone who is seen by a health practitioner should be screened for alcohol use, and if found to drink hazardously, provided with brief intervention and referral to treatment.