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How drinking habits have changed during lockdown

Lockdowns in the UK and US have fast-tracked consumer trends that were lurking well before Covid-19 spread across the globe, according to new figures.

Market researcher Nielsen has been keeping close tabs on alcohol sales in retail channels and online since the start of March, and the data shows that, while some drastic changes have come in terms of the way we buy drinks, it is also changing what we buy.

We’ve looked at the latest data from Nielsen recording off-trade and e-commerce sales in the week ending 9 May, to find out how consumer habits have changed after nine weeks of being stuck at home.

Click through to see our take on how drinking habits have changed during lockdown in the US and UK.

Non-alcoholic options still on the rise

We have been led to believe that people are drinking more than ever during lockdown, and it can sometimes look that way when we see the sustained rise in off-trade and online sales over the past nine weeks, but that isn’t necessarily true.

In the week to 9 May, sales of non-alcoholic beer in the US were up 44% compared to the same period last year. This is on top of rapid growth we’ve already seen in the category.

In fact, non-alcoholic beer has had “one of its strongest” weeks since lockdown in terms of sales, according to Nielsen. This suggests that, as people have started to adjust to their new normal, the novelty of drinking in lockdown is wearing off, and moderation is back on the menu.

It’s also worth noting that, outside of the US, many non-alcoholic beer and spirits brands have loyal fans who want to stock up. Luke Boase, the founder of 0.5% ABV pilsner brand Lucky Saint, said last month that his online sales had risen 300% since the UK’s lockdown began.

Proof Drinks, which owns Cazcabel Tequila and beer brand Pistonhead, said it has seen sales growth of low and non-alcoholic products outpace alcoholic drinks during recent weeks of lockdown.

For example, Pistonhead Full Amber (6.0% ABV) saw sales growth of 238% in week one (22/03 v 29/03) versus Pistonhead Flat Tire (0.5% ABV) of 138%. But in weeks 3, 4, 5 and 6 of lockdown it is the non-alcoholic variants that have seen the greatest sales growth, increasing overall volumes each and every week of more than 70%.

Lyre’s non-alcoholic spirits also recently reported a 400% increase in sales since the Covid-19 period began on their web-shop.

Pantries are well-stocked

While most people are still unable to go to bars or restaurants, they’re continuing to stock up at home, and even more so as the weather gets warmer, and they want to have drinks constantly on-hand.

Beer and cider sales topped US$1 billion in the week ending 9 May, according to Nielsen, surpassing the top pantry-loading week of 3/21/20 by $15 million.

In fact, that week saw the second highest beer sales of any in the past year, behind 4 July 2019.

And it seems that when people buy, they’re doing so for the long haul. Large packs continue to outpace most other pack sizes, with 30 packs up 36.2% and 24 packs up 35%.

Danelle Kosmal, vice president of beverage alcohol at Nielsen, said: “Over the past several weeks, consumers indicated they tend to have more beer and hard seltzers on hand than what they typically would have at home. However, most consumers also said that they would buy more when they are close to running out, as opposed to completely running out and then buying more.”

It’s also worth pointing out that spirits sales growth is outpacing those of wine and beer, suggesting that consumers want to have something in the house that doesn’t need to be replaced as frequently. According to Nielsen, spirits sales in off premise channels grew 48.5% compared to last year, even higher than the 38.6% rise recorded the week before.

E-commerce is crucial

Online off-premise alcohol sales in the US are up a staggering 338.8% year-over-year for the one-week period ending 9 May.

Brands themselves have also seen a marked rise in e-commerce sales. UK beer brand Jubel said its online sales rose 1400% since lockdown began on 20 March, despite only recently setting up a viable e-commerce platform on its own website.

This has, in turn, made brands and retailers rethink their marketing strategies. Nielsen figures show that, while UK advertising spends in traditional channels fell 5% in March due to Covid-19, online retailers inflated their marketing costs by 208%.

Hard Seltzers are gaining on beer

The lockdown has fast-tracked some trends that were already emerging in the US. Hard Seltzer is a great example of this.

We won’t see hard seltzer surpass beer at the US’ number one beverage any time soon. Seltzers have a 2.6% market share of all beverage alcohol in the US, whereas beer makes up almost half (45%) of all booze sold in the states.

But in the week to 9 May, sales of the infamous fizzy waters were up 334% compared to last year, albeit only 2.2% compared to the prior week.

This far outstrips the sales growth of beer. Mexican brands saw the fastest growth in the whole beer category, but were only up 33.5% compared to the same period in 2019.

Over the past few weeks, sales of 12 packs of beer, RTDs and ciders had surged 52% compared to last year. A lot of this 12-pack growth is driven by hard seltzers, according to Nielsen.

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