An Arts District bar in Las Vegas made news recently when it announced the launch of drive-up liquor sales to inject some life back to Main Street. Nevada’s statewide shutdown for all non-essential businesses has been devastating for the city.
Bars that can no longer operate in their usual modes are now applying for special licenses to deliver liquor and sell through drive-by counters. The news has residents celebrating and brings us to the question: has alcohol become a necessity during the time of COVID-19?
It seems so. According to a recent Nielsen report, U.S. beverage sales, especially off-premise alcohol retail sales, have witnessed significant growth amid COVID-19. Consumers are not just stocking up on groceries and toilet paper but also on alcohol, with larger packages outpacing the growth of smaller ones.
In the week ending on March 14, as state by state announced stay at home orders, Nielsen reported a significant spike in the sector. Spirits sales were up 26.4%, wine sales were up 27.6%, and cider/beer/flavored malt beverages were up 14% over the same period in 2019. Compared to these numbers, January 2020 saw just a 3.8% increase in spirit sales, while wine sales grew by only 0.6% during that time.
For the week ending March 21, Nielsen reported U.S. online alcohol sales being up 243%.
Alcohol stockpiling trends included an increase in the sale of canned wines by 95% and three-liter boxed wines by 53% compared to the same period last year. In the beer category, 30-pack sales grew 21%, 24-packs by 24%, and 36-packs by 40%.
As consumers settle in for another month of being holed up at home, stocking up the liquor cabinet has suddenly become very important. Alcohol-delivery services have witnessed a massive spike in sales, and cities like Seattle, Chicago, and Boston are seeing a 300 to 500 percent jump in sales compared to January this year.
Liquor store sales are up in Canada, too, along with sales of groceries, medications, and other goods. Substance use and addiction experts worry that such stockpiling can lead to excessive alcohol consumption, even for moderate drinkers.
For regular folks who can control their consumption, this is probably not much of a concern. But for those prone to heavy drinking, the risks of ignoring public health directives around physical isolation and risking lives is a concern along with relapse of addiction behaviors.
The Nielsen report also stated that while the liquor industry saw such a massive spike in sales, things may be calming down soon. Now that people have stocked up, they won’t be buying more alcohol for a while. Consumers are going to watch the news to see how long theory stay-at-home orders extend before they stockpile more.
It is interesting to see, however, this trend in liquor sales. It reflects the evolving beverage trends and the place liquor has in our lives.
Consumer demands for beverages have resulted in innovative and premium products in recent years. These include craft spirits, hard seltzers, cannabis-infused drinks, and alcohol-free trends. But pandemic buying has seen a lot of buyers going back to basics like wine and beer, both of which saw a decline in sales in the last two years.