The Conversation Society – The UK Drinks Industry Entering a New Era of Responsibility…Part 4

Posted: June 13, 2011 in Consumer Healthcare, Food & Drink, Healthcare, Lifestyle, Public Relations

Last month saw The Conversation Society hosting its second debate, looking at the UK Drinks Industry and the Responsibility Deal.

Our final evening panellist was Nick Southgate, communications consultant and proponent of Behavioural economics.

Nick Southgate


Nick spent time looking at the individual, as a consumer. His view is that the reason people do things is often not an individual motivation. What people often do, because we like to short-cut our decisions, is what other people do… we spend most of our lives doing more or less what we think the people around us are doing.

He went on to discuss how this is central to his thoughts on the debate in question. “I think cultural change is really the only way to affect individual change, including when it comes to alcohol consumption.”

Mark addressed his thought process by discussing things that we could do culturally to change people’s individual actions.

“First, we could change glass sizes so that smaller drinks were much more fashionable; these days the small wine glasses of yesteryear are so passé and we all want vast buckets but this is just fashion and the industry and partners could do a lot to change this.

We could, in a similar vein, make low alcohol drinks every bit as engaging and motivating as we currently do normal strength beers and wines, we could work harder to make these the drinks people want.

We could do more to routinely serve alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks together thereby diluting the effect of the alcoholic consumption more. And this could be done by improving the availability bias – for example, teaching bar staff to routinely serve a jug of water with each round or have water and glasses on all tables or simply to ask ‘would you like a non-alcoholic drink with that too?’ more often.

I also wonder why we don’t have more gourmet drinking establishments?  If you think of the number of high-end restaurants in which you have the sort of menu degustation and all these tiny amounts of food… there seems to be very little like this in the drinks world which instead seems to operate much more at the bargain bucket end of the spectrum.”

I also think about Jamie Oliver in the food industry – an engaging crusading figure who explains clearly why ‘better’ is more important than ‘more’ – someone who can almost single-handedly reframe the whole discussion.

Then there are oblique solutions… for example… I read a recent paper on how to reduce drinking on campus which said one of the most effective ways to do this was to increase the number of 9am lectures because it increases the cost of a hangover especially if those lectures are ones which are academically credited so you really do have to be there.”

“My conclusion is that the evidence seems to be showing more and more that culture is what needs to be changed. A responsibility agenda which is just about the individual looks less and less defensible and less and less credible. I think we are entering a new era of responsibility and this is what it will be about.”  Nick Southgate, May 2011.


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