Toolkit for Assessing the Unrecorded Alcohol Market

Research Questions and Methods for Answering Them

Research on the unrecorded market within a particular national or regional context often involves not only quantifying this market, but also describing its composition,  identifying its drivers and associated outcomes, as well as its relationship to policy measures and the recorded market.

The first step in planning a research project on the unrecorded market is to determine the research question(s) of interest, such as:

  • What is the size and / or composition of the unrecorded market?
  • What are the characteristics of the consumers, producers, and / or distributors of unrecorded alcohol?
  • What is the economic impact of the unrecorded market on the public and/or private sector?
  • What drives the production and consumption of unrecorded alcohol?
  • What is the composition and safety of unrecorded products?
  • What health outcomes are associated with the consumption of unrecorded alcohol?

Next, it is important to identify the data required and whether or not they (i) already exist or (ii) may realistically be collected. Although data come in many different forms, a few key data dichotomies are described below.

  • Primary data are data that researchers collect themselves. Secondary data are existing data, which can come in the form of government statistics, industry data, and data collected by academic researchers, intergovernmental organizations, and nongovernmental organizations (see Annex: Secondary Data Sources). While helpful as a starting point, the secondary data available for many countries is insufficient to provide a complete picture of the unrecorded market. Primary data, however, can be expensive and time consuming to collect.
  • Supply-side data are data that describe one (or more) supply chain activities such as production or distribution. Demand-side data are data that capture the behavior or preferences of consumers, and include purchasing, consumption, and other behavioral information collected via surveys. Because each type of data can yield insights into the market that are difficult or impossible for the other to capture, it is recommended that both supply- and demand-side data ― which can come in either primary or secondary formats ― be collected wherever possible.
  • Finally, data on market size can be collected and analyzed in either volume or value terms. Often both metrics are informative. Volume can be reported as either final product volume or pure alcohol volume. Volume is often converted into value terms, and vice versa, although care should be taken to ensure that such conversions are done in an appropriate way. For example, when calculating value, legal or illegal prices may be applied to volumes, depending on the research objective. If values are reported in, or calculated from, different currencies, the currency exchange rates used should be carefully selected.

Following the identification of the research question(s) and the required data, the feasibility of carrying out field research, desk research, or a combination of the two, should be assessed.

Field research involves the collection and analysis of primary data and can take many forms, including:

  • population-based or consumer surveys;
  • surveys of experts, including government officials, academics, and medical professionals who have specialized knowledge of the topic area; key informants involved in the recorded and unrecorded supply chains;  members of industry trade bodies; and
  • observational retailer (store) visits.

Field research can yield more fine-grained information than desk research; however, it typically requires greater time and financial investment than the latter.

Desk research involves the collection and analysis of relevant secondary data that already exist, such as:

  • regulatory or administrative records;
  • official statistics from national governments and intergovernmental organizations;
  • industry / market data; and
  • data collected and published as part of other studies.

Desk research is often less time and resource intensive than field research, but it may require data that are simply not available for some countries.

Both field and desk research approaches require methodological expertise. It is recommended that both types of approaches be employed when financial resources, time, expertise, and available secondary data allow.

In the remainder of this section, a number of specific desk and field research approaches are discussed. The suitability of each particular approach will vary based on:

  • the specific research question or questions of interest;
  • the type(s) of data desired, as well as the data already available;
  • the time and financial resources available for collecting new data; and
  • local conditions and circumstances.

Strengths, limitations, and practical considerations of each approach are also discussed. In some cases, approaches may be combined, allowing the strengths of one approach to compensate for the limitations of another. Ultimately, the decision of which approach or approaches to use should be driven by both theoretical and practical factors.