Disinfectants and hand sanitizers may be dandy for consumers sheltering at home from the coronavirus pandemic, but for some it appears liquor is quicker.
From the week ending March 7 through the week ending April 18, when U.S. consumers were most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, total alcohol sales jumped 24.4% from the same seven-week period a year ago, with all categories seeing double-digit percentage gains, according to consumer analytic services company Nielsen.
Spirits saw the most growth, rising 32.7%, followed by wine at 29.4% and the beer/flavored malt beverage (FMB)/cider category at 18.9%, while sales of beer specifically grew 11.8%. Most hard seltzers fall into the FMB category.
The increases reflect consumer “stockpiling,” said J.P. Morgan analyst Celine Pannuti, as shelter-at-home restrictions went into effect.
Staying home didn’t deter drinkers, as e-commerce retail sales more than tripled during the period, soaring 234% in the seven-week period from a year ago, including an almost five-fold increase in the last two weeks of that period. Wine accounted for nearly 70% of all online liquor sales during the period, but spirits grew the fastest.
“As we learned from our consumer survey, frequent on-premise adult beverage drinkers (pre-COVID) are much more likely than average adult beverage drinkers to purchase alcohol in both brick-and-mortar stores and online,” said Danelle Kosmal, vice president of beverage alcohol at Nielsen.
In the alcohol business, on-premise refers to sales that are consumed where they are purchased, such as restaurants and bars, while off-premise sales are retail purchases, including those from liquor and grocery stores, that are consumed elsewhere.
The thirst for spirits continued throughout the lockdown period, as sales rose 30.4% during the four weeks ending April 18, and increased 27.4% for the week ended April 18, “well ahead of other alcohol categories,” Nielsen’s latest report said.
“The data clearly reflects continued strength in off-premise consumer takeaway, with every spirit type up strong [double-digits],” Cowen analyst Vivien Azer wrote in a note to clients.
Within spirits, consumers flocked to tequila, which led the category over the latest four-week period with growth of 54.2%, Nielsen data showed, just in time for the Mexican Cinco de Mayo holiday next week.
Among the top tequila sellers, privately held Proximo Spirits, which brands include Jose Cuervo and 1800 Tequila, had fastest dollar sales growth at over 60%, according to Cowen research, followed by Brown-Forman Corp. BF.B, -1.89% , which sells El Jimador, Herradura and Pepe Lopez; and Patron Spirits Co. Meanwhile, Beam Suntory’s tequila, which includes Tres Generaciones, 100 Anos, Hornitos, Sauza and El Tesoro, saw little sales growth.
After tequila, Irish whiskey was second with a 40.4% increase in sales in the four-week period, and American whiskey and gin tied for third at 36.9% growth, Nielsen said.
Consumers apparently weren’t as keen on mixing their own drinks, as sales of ready-to-drink cocktails more than doubled, up 111% in the latest four-week period, Nielsen said.
Nielsen said other big sellers included certain cordials, such as coffee, creams, cognac blends, Amarettos and Apertifs sold “exceptionally well” as consumer appear to be trying different types of mixed drinks, with “some maybe ‘flavoring’ their evening coffees.”