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 2019:
- 490.8 million litres of alcoholic drinks were available for domestic consumption:
New Zealanders drink more beer by volume - we drink over 2.7 times as much beer than wine, and over 3.5 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:
- 13.1 million litres of pure alcohol comes from beer,
- 11.2 million litres from wine,
- and 11 million litres from spirits and spirit-based drinks.
This totals 35.3 million litres of pure alcohol per year or 8.9 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 2019, there were 297.8 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).
The wine industry
There are almost 700 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 2019, there were 107.8 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 2019, 84.8 million litres of spirits and spirit-based (RTDs & Liqueurs) beverages were available for domestic consumption (rose 5.6 per cent from the previous year). The volume of spirits increased from 9.4 million litres in 2003 to 14.8 million litres in 2019 (rose 4.8 per cent from 2018). The volume of spirit-based beverages increased from 34.5 million litres in 2003 to around 70 million litres in 2019 (rose 5.8 per cent from 2018).
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% in 2004 to 31% in 2019. 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 over 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.
In 2019, 491 million litres of alcoholic drinks were available for sale in New Zealand (this is a proxy measure of the alcohol we consume):
- 298 million litres of beer;
- 108 million litres of wine;
- 85 million litres of spirits and spirit-based drinks.
This is a small (1.7%) increase from 2018 (482 million litres).
As you can see, by volume of beverage, we drink more beer, followed by wine and spirits.
However, these beverages are often different alcohol strengths (e.g. a beer can be 4% but spirits can be 40%), so the volume of what we drink doesn't tell us how much alcohol we have consumed as a country.
Consumption of the 491 million litres equated to 35 million litres of pure alcohol, or 8.9 litres of pure alcohol per person aged 15 and above. To put this into perspective, it is the same as every person aged over 18 years consuming two standard drinks per person every day of the year (i.e. 2 cans of beer (330ml, 4% alcohol) or 2 glasses of wine (12.5%; 100ml)). In reality, New Zealand drinkers don't all drink the same amount. We know that approximately 46% of all alcohol sold in New Zealand is consumed in heavy drinking occasions, ie. 8 or more standard drinks for men and 4 or more standard drinks for women.
In 2019, beer, wine and spirits contributed almost equally to our alcohol intake. Beer contributed 13.1 million litres or pure alcohol, wine 11.2 million litres, followed by spirits with 11 million litres.
New Zealanders are increasing becoming spirits drinkers - in 2004 spirits contributed 23% of pure alcohol intake, in 2019 spirits contributed 31%.
New Zealand drinking compared to other countries
New Zealanders typically drink a large amount of alcohol in a drinking occasion. Although we drink less (overall) than the Irish and British (and slightly less than Australians), we drink more than Americans, Canadians and South Africans.
We also need to note that our assessment of per capita consumption in New Zealand, when we are comparing countries, is out of date. This is because our per capita consumption calculations are not based on the alcohol content of products in our current market (the per capital calculations assume products have a lower alcohol strength than they currently do). For this reason, we believe that the per capita consumption estimate in New Zealand (of 8.9 litres per person) is likely to be an under-estimate of the true value.
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Costs outweigh revenue from alcohol
The revenue the Government receives from alcohol taxes does not match the costs of alcohol-related harm to our society.
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In 2017, alcohol contributed $1.0 billion of government revenue in the form of excise tax .
Alcohol misuse is estimated to cost New Zealand society $5 billion each year (expressed in 2005/06 currency) . This includes costs to individuals such as car insurance, lost wages and medical treatments, as well as cost to the government such as healthcare costs, road crashes, police and justice .
In comparison to alcohol, the social cost of other drug-related harms and intervention is estimated to be at $1.6 billion (expressed in 2005/06 currency)  and $1.8 billion in 2014/15 .
It is estimated that :
- 11% of all ACC claims are attributed to alcohol-related injuries .
- 18% of the New Zealand Police budget is spent on alcohol incidents.
Cost to productivity
Alcohol also results in loss of productivity in workplaces and schools -
- In 2012/13, male drinkers (4%) were 1.6 times more likely to be absent from work or studies than female drinkers (2.5%) ; and
- In 2012/13, male drinkers (6.9%) were 1.4 times more likely to experience negative financial effects due to their drinking than female drinkers .
- Every year, 147,500 adults take one or more days off work or school due to their alcohol use . A total of 84,400 adults have experienced harmful effects on their work, study or employment because of alcohol .
- In 2012, 6% of adolescent drinkers report having their work or school affected in the last year due to alcohol . Among those students living in the most deprived areas, 8% report problems with work or school (exacerbating existing inequities in outcomes) .
Our drinking landscape - alcohol is over-supplied and advertised heavily
Our drinking landscape has changed considerably over the last 30 years. We have seen dramatic increases in the number of places selling alcohol, the affordability and types of alcoholic products available, and use of innovative marketing strategies to advertise them.
Beginning in 1989, new liquor laws increased the availability of alcohol across New Zealand - wine and beer became available in supermarkets and grocery stores in 1989 and 1999 respectively; the minimum legal age to purchase alcohol was reduced from 20 to 18 years in 1999.
The number of places that sold alcohol more than doubled from to 6,300 in 1990 to 14,200 in 2009.
Today, around 75% of all alcohol in New Zealand is sold from off-licences: 43% from bottle stores and 32% from supermarkets and grocery stores.
More liquor outlets are concentrated in poor suburbs than rich suburbs.
The increasingly availability of Ready to Drinks (RTDs) has had a huge impact on heavy drinking in New Zealand, particularly among young girls.
Alcohol has become more affordable over time.
In 2009, it was estimated that $200,000 was spent each day advertising alcohol in New Zealand.
Within prime-time television viewing in New Zealand, a scene depicting alcohol occurs every 9 minutes.
In New Zealand, $85 million is spent per week on alcohol ($4-5 billion per year).
Everything we care deeply about will start to improve when we reduce alcohol harm. With less alcohol harm, we can; improve our mental wellbeing, reduce suicide and family harm, have safer roads and communities, improve our physical health (e.g. fewer injuries and cancers) and lift employment and productivity. We can open up space to enable genuine conversations, trust and creativity.
As a result of substantial cost savings from reduced harm, every New Zealander stands to benefit. Our core services and sectors, such as ACC, police, health, welfare and justice will experience the greatest gains from reduced harm.
The possibilities are endless. Watch the video below and click the links to learn more.
Past year drinking
In 2018/19, four in every five (or 80.3%) New Zealanders had an alcoholic drink in the past year (a significant increase from 78.7% in 2017/18).
Males (84.5%) were more likely to drink than females (76.3%). For more detail on past-year drinking, click here.
Note: ‘Hazardous drinking’ refers to an established alcohol drinking pattern that carries a risk of harming the drinker’s physical or mental health or having harmful social effects on the drinker or others. It is determined by using the World Health Organisation's AUDIT checklist - a score of 8 or more indicates hazardous drinking.
Males (27.5%) were twice as likely as females (12.8%) to be hazardous drinkers.
Whilst 18 to 24 year olds maintain the highest (35.4%) prevalence of hazardous drinking in the country, hazardous drinking patterns remain prevalent throughout older age groups in New Zealand, particularly among men. Adolescents (15 to 17 year olds) have maintained their lower levels of hazardous drinking (6.3%).
Inequities in consumption persist - in 2018/19 Māori were more likely to be hazardous drinkers than non-Māori, and people in the most deprived neighbourhoods were more likely to be hazardous drinkers than those from the least deprived neighbourhoods.
For more detail on hazardous drinking, click here.
1 in 5 New Zealanders have a drinking pattern that places them and/or others at risk of harm
Heavy drinking at least weekly
Reported consumption of six or more drinks on one occasion, at least weekly, significantly increased among men (total)(18.3%), young adults 18-24 years (21.1%), and European/other men (20.1%), compared with 16.3%, 16.5%, and 17.6% in 2017/18 respectively.
Learn more here
What we drinkRead More...
Drinking in the past year
Trends in hazardous drinking
Drinking trends in adolescents
Drinking trends in older adults