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One year later, sharp rise in alcohol purchases may be flattening

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Posted at 3:43 PM, Mar 24, 2021

Sales of alcoholic beverages fell in mid-March, the first week with a year-over-year decline in sales since the coronavirus pandemic started.

The decline happened in the week ending March 13, according to research firm Nielsen IQ, with so-called “off-premise” sales down 1.9% from the previous week. That refers to wine, beer, spirits and other alcoholic drinks that are sold through grocery stores or liquor stores, and not at restaurants or bars, which is referred to as “on-premise.”

It may not seem much, but it’s the first decline in over a year. Analysts think with more bars and restaurants opening up across the country, this decline in off-premise sales could keep growing.

This is also some of the first data being compared to a spike in shopping habits at the beginning of the pandemic. In March 2020, many Americans were beginning their stay-at-home lockdowns and stocking up their fridge and pantry.

“At this time last year, alcohol volume experienced massive shifts from the on-premise to off-premise,” NielsenIQ vice president of beverage alcohol practice Danelle Kosmal wrote in a recap of the data. “As we lap those pantry-loading weeks, we are beginning to see the impact with very tough year ago comparisons.”

According to the data, wine sales in particular dropped in March 2021 over a year ago, falling about 8%, CNN reported. Sales of spirits and beer remain flat compared to a year ago, and sales of hard seltzers, which have gained in popularity recently, actually grew year-over-year.

The research company points out that sales of alcoholic beverages are still 20-30% higher than they were in March 2019.