Toolkit for Assessing the Unrecorded Alcohol Market

What is "unrecorded" alcohol?


Figure 2. The Alcohol Market: A Taxonomy


The alcohol market can be divided into two main segments―recorded and unrecorded. Both segments are well established in many parts of the world and respond to social, cultural, economic, and political change. They also play a role in a range of key social and health issues. 

The recorded alcohol market segment includes legally produced and traded beverages that are reflected in official statistics and are subject to regulation. Most commercially and legally traded branded beverages are recorded.

The unrecorded alcohol market segment, by definition, is not reflected in official statistics and is not subject to the same regulations as the recorded market. Some unrecorded products are licit, but, for various reasons, escape being captured in records. Such products include alcohol purchased through legal cross-border shopping for beverages recorded in the country of purchase but not in the country of consumption, and legal informal alcohol, which is licit but not recorded.

The illicit part of the unrecorded alcohol market includes a wide array of products, namely: illegal informal alcohol, which differs from legal informal alcohol only in the extent to which it adheres to laws regarding the supply and sale of such beverages; contraband or smuggled alcohol; counterfeit alcohol; tax leakage; and non-conforming products. Complicating matters is the fact that some illicit products may, in fact, be captured in some official records (for further discussion, see Challenges to Studying the Unrecorded Market)

Still another type of unrecorded alcohol is surrogate alcohol, which includes products that contain ethanol but also other alcohols (isopropanol, methanol) and are not intended for human consumption. These products generally are significantly cheaper than beverage alcohol and, in some parts of the world, are consumed as substitutes.

Because of the number and range of product types subsumed under the umbrella term of “unrecorded alcohol,” it is important that the definitional criteria for the entire unrecorded market segment and its sub-segments are consistent across studies. This is critical for facilitating meaningful cross-country comparisons of market size and composition. To this end, Figure 2 presents a taxonomy of the alcohol market and its segments and sub-segments, as well as corresponding definitions.