‘Pre-loading’ not just about price – UK report

Pre loading is clearly a significant part of the drinking event for large parts of the NTE population.
Pre loading is clearly a significant part of the drinking event for large parts of the NTE population.

Price is not the only reason behind the ‘pre-loading’ phenomenon witnessed in so many parts of Ireland and the UK.



26 August 2013

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A new report out surveys the reasons why 18 to 23 year-olds prefer to drink at home before going to clubs and bars. It finds that many do not feel safe in the Night Time Economy, preferring the safety of drinking with people known to them.

One respondent goes so far as to state that he needs large amounts of alcohol to face the “chaos”.

The report, from Plymouth University, was commissioned by Plymouth City Council and the Devon & Cornwall Police.
Some respondents point out that “there’s no randoms trying to edge into the group” when drinking at home.

Pre loading is clearly a significant part of the drinking event for large parts of the NTE population with at least 50% of people having drunk significant quantities of alcohool prior to going out and it would appear that pre-loaders continue to drink heavily once they enter the NTE, states the report.

The majority of alcohol bought for pre-loading comes from large supermarket chains.

“It would appear that those charged with designing pubs and clubs fail to either understand or accommodate the needs of young drinkers with the result that they prefer to drink at home in spaces which can provide the environment required for early evening drinking,” note the report’s authors, “Ironically, many interiewed saw the home part as the safest, yet consumed alcohol in a way and in quantities which are anything but safe.”

When drinking at home, points out one of the report’s authors Adrian Barton of Plymouth University, there are no natural breaks compared to people moving on to different pubs and bars when going out for a drink.

The cheapness of off-sales alcohol means that there are limited economic factors to control access to alcohol. Without ‘gatekeepers’ and in the absence of standard measures, it’s difficult to control and have knowledge about the amounts being drunk.

“There are often no sober people agains which to measure drunkeness,” points out the report, adding, “As a result, many pre-loaders enter the NTE with high levels of intoxication and an absence of any prior restriction on their behaviour and access to alcohol. The sudden appearance of control can andn does cause some problems to this group.”

Flash points occur at the entrances to pubs and clubs.

“It is our contention that the police and door staff who, alongside bar staff, act as controllers of access to alcohol are faced with a new, growing and different problem in terms of keeping order in the NTE.

“To expand, those individuals who begin their drinking in the NTE are visible to responsible gatekeepers throughout the entire drinking event meaning that their drinking can be noted and access to alcohol and licensed premises controlled by a combination of the work of bar and door staff inside licensed premises and patrolling police officers in public spaces.

“Pre-loaders negate such control in the early part of the evening and as a result often pose immediate problems on arrival in the NTE. The challenge facing policy-makers is how to regain control over access to alcohol to those pre-loaders who arrive late in the NTE cycle.”

An integral part of its drinking culture, pre-loading needs to be viewed in a wider context which includes:

•    Alcohol being more readily and freely available than it has been within living memory with age being the only restriction
•    Alcohol being relatively cheaper now than for decades but with a growing disparity between off- and on-trades
•    Consumption patterns which are rapidly changing including volume consumed and locations used for consumption.
•    Excessive alcohol consumption becoming normalised in large sections of the population
•    Government control over public drinking and the activities of licensed premises growing but significant control over the activities of off-sales, especially large retailers, is weak and patchy

The report suggests that we are witnessing a change in drinking culture away from a traditional model of ‘pub-club’ to ‘home-pub-club’ which presents a new problem in terms of keeping order in the NTE.

“In our minds pre-loading is a significant cultural shift,” state the authors, “At present, policy-makers’ understanding of the why and how of this practice is limited. As a result, alcohol policies, which have improved markedly in the past decade, are failing to understand the significance of pre-loading due to a partial understanding and accompanying over-emphasis on seeing pre-loading as only being a result of economics.

“Until policy-makers and those leading the NTE see pre-loading as a significant cultural shift among young people within which unsafe drinking practices flourish, our alcohol policies will continue to fail to impact on as much as 80% of some young people’s alcohol intake,” they conclude.

Here, a Mintel Report from last December refers to 32% of RoI consumers drink at home before going out to save money.

Pre loading is clearly a significant part of the drinking event for large parts of the NTE population.

Pre loading is clearly a significant part of the drinking event for large parts of the NTE population.




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