Beer, Cigarettes See Bump During COVID-19 Crisis

Consumers turned to c-stores as stay-at-home orders took hold, SOI speaker said.

April 17, 2020

By Angel Abcede

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—While retailers on the ground may not be surprised, initial data from Nielsen showed consumers are turning to the convenience-store channel for beer and cigarettes, as they settle into their homes under coronavirus shelter-in-place orders, an associate with the New York-based data-collection firm said during the session, How Coronavirus Is Reshaping Consumer Demands for Convenience, at the just-released NACS State of the Industry (SOI) Virtual Experience.

Tracking data during February and March, Caitlyn Battaglia, associate client director with Nielsen, said that mass merchants and wholesale clubs saw an initial surge as consumers stockpiled necessities, but then as shelter-in-place orders took effect amid the pandemic, people saw c-stores as a more convenient place to restock their pantries with what they viewed as preferred products. In this “restricted living” environment, beer and many subcategories of tobacco saw significant increases.

The quantified dollar difference for premium beer between the initial onset of shelter-in-place orders and when the restricted living took place was $78 million for premium beer and $77 million for imported beer. As people moved from initial stockpiling to restricted living, larger pack sizes began to be more important, she said.

“As we go deeper into restricted living, you see with beer and packaged beverage, pack size becomes more important,” Battaglia said, “as the prepared pantry dwindles and people are looking to convenience for fill-in trips to cover some of the holes that they have.”

Similarly for premium cigarettes, the dollar difference before and after customers settled into their homes was $97 million. For smokeless products the difference was $35 million, and for e-cigarettes, $33 million, she said.

(View this session and the complete NACS SOI Summit Virtual Experience on demand by clicking here. Video presentation viewing is available for download until September 1, 2020.)

Angel Abcede is a senior editor and tobacco editor at CSP Magazine.