US alcohol consumption shifts back towards the on-trade

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Alcohol Us

Alcohol volume continues to shift from off-premise channels back to on-premise establishments, according the latest figures from Nielsen.

As a growing number of Americans become fully vaccinated, and bars and restaurants expand their capacity, more sales are being seen in the on-trade.

However, off-premise alcohol sales remain far above pre-pandemic levels. “This clearly is an indication that not all drinkers are returning to the on-premise, and alcohol consumption continues to be shifted more towards in-home consumption, compared to pre-pandemic time periods,”​ notes NielsenIQ in its beverage alcohol update.

For the four weeks ending May 29, 2021, total alcohol off-premise sales were down 10.9%, compared to the pandemic-hit same four weeks in 2020.

Compared to the same four weeks in 2019, however, off-premise sales of spirits are up 32%, wine is up 16%, and beer, FMB and cider is up 11%.

What’s happening to pandemic premiumization?

Premiumization was a prevalent trend in alcohol pre-pandemic. Momentum grew, however, during the pandemic: as consumers traded up to more expensive options for at-home consumption.

For the most part, Nielsen sees alcohol premiumization continue but slow as consumers take their dollars back to the on-premise and have less desire to treat themselves at home.

“It [premiumization] remains above pre-pandemic time periods: but the trading-up trend is happening at a much slower rate than peak COVID months in the US from 2020.

“During the initial months of the pandemic, when consumers were loading pantries with large sizes and mainstream or value brands, high-end alcohol share gains began to slow (with the exception of seltzer). Following the initial pantry-loading months, beginning in June 2020 there was an acceleration in share growth across high-end segments. The growth of premium share gains peaked in Jan/Feb 2021, and then started to level off in March.

“The exception to this timing is hard seltzers, which peaked in share gains during initial months of the pandemic, and then began a steady decline in share gains beginning in May 2020.”

Not all consumers are alike…

Nielsen highlights, however, it is important to note that not all consumers will react the same.

“Some consumers are still hesitant to return to the on premise, and similarly, some consumers have developed home-body mentalities that will linger for the foreseeable future.”

“We should expect a divergence in the way that consumers contribute to premiumization -- with the “insulated consumers” (those who have not faced financial hardship during the past 15 months) contributing to a greater share of that premiumization. With little to no financial constraints, the ‘insulated consumers’ will be seeking ways to explore and experiment in premium segments of alcohol.” 

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