Alcohol sales fell during 2020 as prolonged pub and bar closings negated an increase in home alcohol consumption during the shutdown and more people developed a taste for non-alcoholic alternatives.
Healthcare providers have sounded the alarm about the rise in alcohol use among problem drinkers during the pandemic, while home delivery services have been singled out as a particular danger to addicts. But figures to be released next week are expected to show that British drinkers bought less alcohol overall during the year through early October, a period that included more than six months of coronavirus restrictions.
The annual market report of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) will show that beer sales fell 10% and wine sales 5% as the increase in online orders did not compensate for the closure of bands of the hospitality sector.
“It’s a myth that people drink more during the confinement,” said WSTA Executive Director Miles Beale. “With so many pubs and restaurants being forced to close their doors and large gatherings banned, people don’t drink as much as they would under normal circumstances.”
Supermarkets, which have been open during the pandemic, have enjoyed an increase in alcohol sales as they regained the lost trade from hospitality venues. Alcohol sales in supermarkets rose by a third in the three months to the end of November compared to the same period last year, according to data firm Kantar, and cream liqueurs proved particularly popular before Christmas.
Gin sales in the retail sector also rose, surpassing £ 1 billion for the first time, according to data released by WSTA on Friday. Overall, gin sales fell as retailers proved unable to make up for bar and pub closures, with annual UK gin revenue 400 million pounds less than in 2019, to 2.2 billion pounds.
While retailers have charged, pubs have predicted that year-on-year revenue will plummet by as much as 90% in December, a month that can account for a quarter of profit in a typical year.
Successive figures released during the pandemic have shown large declines in trade at hospitality venues across the UK.
Pete Brown, president of the British Guild of Beer Writers, said: “In a crisis like this, if your drinking is driven by stress and anxiety, of course it’s going to get worse and the people suffering need help. But they are not helped when this is falsely described as a broad social problem. When you look at the full data, instead of selectively selecting it, twice of us drink less than we drink more, which is confirmed by the figures for total alcohol sales. “
While sales of alcohol have generally declined, sales of non-alcoholic alternatives, which include 0% tequila, rum and whiskey, have continued to rise. The “no and low” alcoholic beverage sector, partly driven by lower rates of alcohol consumption among young people, has increased six-fold since 2015, according to Distill Ventures, a Diageo-backed beverage company that owns Smirnoff and Guinness.
Sales of non-alcoholic spirits rose 30% in the UK last year, data from analytics firm Nielsen showed. The UK was the most mature market in the world, with 42 brands, 11 of them launched in 2020.
Distill Ventures predicted increased consumption of non-alcoholic beers, wines and spirits during “dry January,” when some people forgo alcohol.
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