Has coronavirus changed how much alcohol Americans are drinking?

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

The closure of bars and restaurants means many Americans report drinking less / Pic: iStock/william87
The closure of bars and restaurants means many Americans report drinking less / Pic: iStock/william87

Related tags: Alcohol, COVID-19, coronavirus

New research looks at what impact stay-at-home orders and conditions during the COVID-19 crisis have had on American alcohol consumption.

The majority of Americans are drinking ‘responsibly’ under the stay-at-home orders implemented across various US states, according to research commissioned by Responsibility.org.

The research aimed to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the drinking habits of US adults. It found six in ten Americans are drinking ‘about the same or less’ alcohol – including beer, wine, cocktails and spirits – during lockdown. 

The survey, which included 1,000 American adults and was carried out by APCO Insight, showed 35% of Americans are drinking about the same despite stay-at-home orders and 28% are drinking less. This includes 11% who say they have stopped drinking entirely.

Not being able to go out and bars and restaurants being closed are the top two reasons for drinking less, with 38% and 33% of respondents citing these factors respectively.

The survey found that the majority of Americans – 86% - claim that they are confident they drink responsibly. Almost half, 45%, report ‘extreme confidence’ that they drink responsibly.

American shoppers also largely report that working from home during the coronavirus crisis has not increased drinking during working hours. In total 84% said that they have not changed their habits – with 33% reporting that they ‘never’ drink during work hours, 21% stating that they drink less or have stopped drinking and 30% suggesting that they drink the same amount.

However, non-profit Responsibility.org found the number of Americans who report drinking any alcohol in the past 30 days has increased – rising from 71% to 79% compared to the same time last year.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many Americans’ lives and habits, but this survey shows most Americans are choosing to drink responsibly despite the stress of these unprecedented times. Adults who choose to drink should always do so responsibly, never drive drunk or impaired, and it is especially important for parents to model responsible decision-making in front of children,”​ said Chris Swonger, president and CEO, Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and Responsibility.org.

The self-reporting bias? 

While most Americans say​ they are drinking about the same - or less - despite stay-at-home orders, it is worth remembering that such data is subject to self-reporting bias. And while researchers will work to reduce this by framing their questions neutrally, respondents' pre-conceived judgments about alcohol can easily slip in. 

So how does the Respobsibility.org data stack up against spending patterns? According to the latest consumer spending tracker from analysts at shopper insight provider IRI, US alcohol sales through retail channels remain 'elevated' in the week to 13 May. Alcohol sales were up 34.2% versus the same week last year. This is above the average increase across edible categories, which stood at 20.3%. Only the performance of frozen food - up 36% year-on-year - was comparable. Significantly, non-alcoholic beverages sales were just 7.5% higher compared to last year. 

Data from Nielsen tells a similar story. Total alcohol sales in the US off-trade have risen 16% during the overall lockdown period compared to 2019. According to the market researcher, spirits have been the biggest winner in the retail space, with retail revenue rising 27.4%. Wine sales have increased 14.1%, while growth in beer and cider has been slower at 12.3%. 

To gauge the impact on overall US alcohol consumption, growth in retail must be offset against the slowdown witnessed through restaurants and bars. 

While Nielsen revealed declines in on-trade have 'stabilised', average sales per outlet are 68% below last year. The end result will be a drop in value spend, if not volume consumption. 

Danny Brager, SVP of Nielsen’s beverage alcohol practice, elaborated: “Unquestionably, we expect the total dollar spending on alcohol will decline. Consumers are shifting the dollars they would have spent on alcohol in a restaurant, bar, or tasting room to alcoholic beverages they can buy at a lower mark-up from retailers, online merchants and even directly from the supplier in the instances where it is legalised to do so.”

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