Americans May Scale Back Buying Booze for Home

The pandemic pushed consumers to stock up on alcohol, but that might be changing.

March 26, 2021

Beer Bottle Toasting

NEW YORK—Americans have slowed down retail purchases of alcohol for the first time since the pandemic began, CNN Business reports. According to new data from NielsenIQ, retail alcohol sales fell 1.9% for the week ended March 13—the first such drop in a year.

This time last year, Americans began stockpiling booze as governors began issuing stay-at-home orders and restaurants and bars closed down or pivoted to carry-out only service. In March 2020, retail alcohol sales spiked as high as 55% with spirits, wine and beer top sellers.

New data indicate that trend is on the way out, according to Danelle Kosmal, vice president of beverage alcohol at NielsenIQ. “We have officially surpassed one year of drastic shifts in consumer and shopper behaviors resulting from the pandemic in the United States. At this time last year, alcohol volume experienced massive shifts from the on-premise to off-premise," she said.

Part of that decline has been the reopening of restaurants and bars, which offer on-premise sales of alcohol. Wine sales decreased 8% for the week ended March 13, with spirits sales staying flat. The only bright spot was beer sales, which were up slightly amid the growing popularity of spiked seltzers. Without seltzer sales, the beer category would have dipped more than 2%. Overall alcohol sales for the week ended March 13 would have declined 3% without hard seltzers.

New seltzers have buoyed sales, including iced tea flavors of White Claw and a new, higher alcohol-by-volume drink from Truly. Spindrift and Topo Chico will debut new seltzer options in the coming weeks.

Decreases aside, consumers still buy a lot of alcohol. NielsenIQ registered retail sales of beer, spirits and wine at about 20% to 30% higher this month compared with March 2019. But NielsenIQ cautioned the trend will “flatten” as more states lift gathering restrictions.

To learn more about the seltzer trend and how the drinks are impacting alcohol sales, read “Hazy, Sour & Hard” in NACS Magazine.