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Off-Premise Alcohol Sales Slip Year-On-Year, But Still Far Outpace Rates From 2019

March 24, 2021

Total off-premise alcohol sales by value were down compared to last year for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, according to Nielsen data for the week that ended March 13. Total sales were 1.9% lower than they were for that week in 2020, which was marked by the first stay-at-home orders and a surge in panic buying.

The week in question is a hard comparison to live up to, so Nielsen’s report also compares the same period from 2019. Retail spirits value was still up 28% relative to the same week in 2019, while wine showed a 19% advantage, beer/cider/FMBs gained 17%, and core beer grew 8%.

“We have officially surpassed one year of drastic shifts in consumer and shopper behaviors resulting from the pandemic in the U.S.” said Danelle Kosmal, vice president of beverage alcohol at Nielsen. “At this time last year, alcohol volume experienced massive shifts from the on-premise to off-premise. As we lap those pantry-loading weeks, we are beginning to see the impact with very tough year-ago comparisons. However, there are still some bright stars that are outpacing growth from even the biggest off-premise weeks from last year.”

The majority of the softening in overall sales value can be attributed to the wine segment, which trailed last year’s benchmark by 8.1%. Spirits matched last year’s value tally exactly, demonstrating that retail demand continues to sustain itself at the higher levels precipitated by the shift to the off-premise. The collective beer/cider/flavored malt beverage segment saw a modest gain of 0.4% that was driven by RTDs and FMBs; core beer sales were down 2.2%, while hard seltzers were up 26.4% and hard tea gained 44% over this time last year.

Nielsen made specific note of Texas, which is ahead of most other states in reopening bars and restaurants. Texas fully reopened during the period in question so the data do not yet reflect a massive shift away from the off-premise, “but that will likely change for the week ending March 20.”—Danny Sullivan

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