Big Alcohol Would Be Screwed Without Problem Drinkers

Despite constituting less than 20 percent of Australians over the age of 14, super consumers, according to the report, account for more than 74 percent of all alcohol consumed yearly in Australia.

Alex Swerdloff

Photo via Flickr user korafotomorgana

Following the 1933 repeal of Prohibition in the US, this nation's emerging distillers voluntarily set about to create not only the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, but also the Code of Responsible Practices. This de facto series of moralistic codes is basically the industry's go-to method of policing itself in the hopes of not rocking too many boats. It's also why we have the unending stream of Nancy Reagan-esque "Drink Responsibly" ads.

As it turns out, though, the alcohol industry is pretty much depending on us to not drink responsibly. Our over-drinking is keeping the entire business sector afloat.

A new report by Australia's Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education has found that the alcohol industry there—which presumably looks a hell of a lot like the alcohol industry worldwide—greatly depends on the heaviest of drinkers to enhance their bottom line. In fact, the report found that the alcohol industry there has branded the more than 3.8 million Aussies who drink more than double the daily recommended maximum of two alcoholic drinks as "super consumers." And it's these super consumers that are the source of most of their profits.

Despite constituting less than 20 percent of Australians over the age of 14, super consumers, according to the report, account for more than 74 percent of all alcohol consumed yearly in Australia. The report further points out that "this knowledge explains the alcohol industry's steadfast refusal to support alcohol policy measures that would effectively encourage and support Australians to drink within the recommended guidelines."

In fact, the report goes so far as to conclude that should these super consumers reduce their alcohol consumption to the recommended daily level, Australia's national alcohol consumption would drop a massive 39 percent. You don't have to be a fan of Men At Work to realize that this demographic represents big bickies for Big Alcohol.

The report's findings were ascertained after analyzing alcohol consumption and trend data from the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research. The Centre's data concluded that over 1.9 million Aussies drink upwards of six standard alcoholic beverages a day. That's a lot of drinking, especially in a country of only about 23 million people.

As noted in The Guardian, a 2014 article found in the trade magazine ​National Liquor News​ stated that attendees of the annual Liquor Marketing Group Conference were instructed to "identify and target super consumers." Evidently, the industry totally knows who is buttering its bread. Industry representatives were quoted as giving this advice: "Traditionally we used to say you get 70 to 80 percent of your business from 20-30 percent of your customers . . . When retailers identify those consumers, they should target them with everything they do."

This all might give the impression that Australia is just a liquor-soaked pit of despair, but overall alcohol consumption in Australia is at its lowest since the 1960s, according to data released last year by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The chief executive for the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, Michael Torn, says that is precisely why the alcohol industry has relied so heavily in recent years on these super consumers. "The industry cannot hide behind the rhetoric of responsible drinking anymore in the face of such large numbers. We need strong interventions from government, including a volumetric tax on alcohol, as well as tougher policies on the way alcohol is marketed," he says.

Is Australia's liquor industry—and the global industry as a whole—in need of some major changes? It seems so, but all we can say is this: it's not easy to make changes when your very livelihood comes from people who are definitely not drinking in moderation at all.