Pandemic-Induced Alcohol Hoarding Might Return in Winter

Another shutdown could drive sales during Q4

holiday alcohol sales
"You could arguably have a perfect storm of fear, desperation, holidays and celebration." Getty Images
Headshot of Ryan Barwick

Don’t finish off that tequila just yet. 

With socially distanced backyard barbecues no longer an option for much of the country as we head into fall and winter, the looming threat of stricter shutdown measures could have an effect on alcohol sales in 2020’s last quarter.

According to a report by BevAlc Insights, the consumer insights and editorial arm of alcohol delivery brand Drizly, shelves may be left barren as drinkers hoard and stock supplies before the new year.

At the onset of the pandemic, alcohol consumption skyrocketed—at least within the confines of consumers’ own homes. In March and April, among purchases made at liquor, grocery or convenience stores, spirit sales were up 34%, wine sales 30%, and beer, cider, and malt beverages 20%, according to Nielsen.

During what Drizly calls the “Covid Stocking Period,” which ran from March 15 to April 30, the top five liquor brands sold on the platform were Tito’s, Bulleit, Casamigos, Jameson and Jack Daniels. Among categories, red and white wine took the top spot ahead of vodka.

“There’s a visceral response to the word ‘shutdown.’ And during Q4, there are already more people drinking, so you could arguably have a perfect storm of fear, desperation, holidays and celebration,” said Brian Rosen, president and founder of BevStrat, an alcohol brand sales and strategy firm, in a statement published in Drizly’s report.

The last quarter is important, as sales are accelerated by the holidays. Independent retailers generally move “20% of their annual sales volume in the last six to eight weeks of the year,” according to the report. That might not be the case this year, as holiday parties and family gatherings will surely happen on a much reduced scale, considering the public health crisis. And virtual happy hours won’t involve nearly as much booze as the usual corporate holiday shindigs.

But hoarding during the holidays might look different than it did in the spring, as Americans have already lived through a shutdown, know what to expect and have an understanding of what businesses are deemed essential.

“Much of this mentality early in the pandemic was due to the uncertainty of the situation,” said Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “Now that the public has experience with shutdown procedures and an understanding of what businesses will be deemed essential, including alcohol retailers, the ‘stock up’ could be on a smaller scale.”

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@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.