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Retail alcohol sales soar during coronavirus pandemic

By
Jessie Higgins
Retail alcohol sales are up considerably during the coronavirus pandemic, largely because Americans are eating -- and drinking -- at home. File Photo by Billie Jean Shaw/UPI
Retail alcohol sales are up considerably during the coronavirus pandemic, largely because Americans are eating -- and drinking -- at home. File Photo by Billie Jean Shaw/UPI

EVANSVILLE, Ind., May 4 (UPI) -- With bars, breweries and restaurants across the country closed during the coronavirus pandemic, retail alcohol sales are soaring.

Beer sales climbed more than 20 percent between March 8 and April 19, coinciding with governors' stay-at-home orders, according to data compiled by the Connecticut-based analytics firm Bump Williams Consulting.

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During that same time, wine sales jumped nearly 30 percent, spirits sales rose nearly 40 percent and hard seltzer sales skyrocketed some 330 percent, according to the firm.

"Compared to a year ago, we're seeing astronomical growth for all [alcoholic] beverages," said Dave Williams, the vice president of analytics and insights at Bump Williams.

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The obvious reason for the growth is the Americans are suddenly eating -- and drinking -- mostly at home, Williams said.

This sudden change in consumer behavior has injected new life into some legacy brands that have seen sales declines in recent years, Williams said.

Busch Light, for example, saw sales increase some 44 percent since the quarantine measures in the United States began, according to InMarket, a Los Angeles-based analytics firm.

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Anheuser-Busch, the company that makes Busch Light, declined to comment, saying it is "currently in a quiet period as we'll be announcing earnings on May 7."

Other popular low cost beers, like Miller Lite, Michelob Ultra and Natural Light, had sales increase between about 14 and 17 percent, according to InMarket.

"During periods that are more stressful, or when there's a sudden relief of stress, you tend to see [alcohol] consumption go up," said Todd Dipaola, InMarket's co-founder and CEO. "We're experiencing that now."

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Low-cost light beers are selling particularly well, which makes sense given the economic uncertainty many households are facing, Dipaola said.

"You're far more likely to grab a budget-friendly beer if you don't know if the money is going to be there tomorrow," he said.

Not all brands are seeing the same massive sales increase.

Grupo Modelo, the brewer of Corona beer, temporarily halted production and marketing operations in early April in Mexico to comply with a coronavirus health emergency declared by the government, which ordered non-essential businesses to close.

Meanwhile, small-scale operations, like breweries, that do not have a strong retail presence have seen their markets collapse since the start of the pandemic.

"If you are not already on the [grocery] store shelf, and you don't have a distribution network, there are very limited options for getting your product out the door," Bump Williams Consulting's Williams said.

Sales at the small breweries have fallen an average of 65 percent, according to the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based trade organization that represents independent breweries.

"We're selling 95 percent less of what we were leading up to this," said John Mills, the owner of Damsel Brew Pub, a two-year-old brewery in Evansville, Ind.

"I think we'll be OK," Mills said. "This managed to hit us at a time when I had some cash reserves, and I have a really understanding landlord. But I've had to lay off all my staff. It's just me here now."

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