The COVID-19 pandemic caused a seismic shift in alcohol consumption. “Off premise” sales became more popular as restaurants and bars closed and people stayed – and drank – at home.
But how did the pandemic change drinking at home? What happened and why? And will these changes be permanent?
Wine Future 2021, the conference addressing the issues affecting the wine industry, brought in experts to explain how the pandemic changed drinking at home. Some of the changes seem pretty obvious; others were more unexpected. The changes also varied somewhat depending on what part of the world the expert was referring to.
Here are 5 ways the experts reported how the pandemic changed drinking at home, and which trends may endure.
1. Older Drinkers Splurged More; Younger Ones Cut Back
While typically older people with more disposable income may be willing to spend more on wine, this trend became more pronounced during the pandemic, as these consumers were buying more expensive wines to drink at home.
“When you don’t go to restaurants you can spend more on wine,” said Sara Norell, Director and VP, Assortment, Purchasing & Supplychain, Systembolaget, in Sweden. This same demographic, who may miss traveling, also spent more on luxury wine to drink at home.
But this did not hold true for younger people, who opted to drink less expensive wines during the pandemic than they did previously. “The younger generation is spending less money because of salary cuts and unemployment,” explained Claudia Masuger, Founder and CEO, Cheers Wines, based in China.
2. Some Beverages were More Popular than Others
During the pandemic, people drinking at home consumed both white and red wines. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were particular favorites. Rosé boomed after a decline in recent years, said Bernard Filiol de Raimond, Director, Global Wine Management for METRO AG in Germany.
But people drinking at home avoided sparkling wines, known more for celebrations and drinking at events, like weddings. Sales for them tanked. For instance, Champagne shipments in 2020 were down 18 percent compared to 2019.
Sales of organic wine increased 50 percent, as part of the health trend, according to Norell.
U.S. consumers also turned to low alcohol drinks, canned cocktails, and hard seltzer, said Ed Eiswirth, director of fleet beverage operations, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
However, it’s unclear if these preferences will continue post-pandemic. “I’m not sure what [trends] will stay,” Eiswirth said.
3. Direct Delivery Boomed
Not surprisingly, people staying home and avoiding others during the pandemic flocked to alcohol delivery services. This included sales from wineries direct to consumers, shipments from retail stores where allowed by law, and purchases via online platforms, such as Drizly and Wired For Wine. For example, U.S. wineries shipped directly to consumers 27 percent more wine in 2020 than in 2019. Not only is direct delivery convenient; consumers need only show that they’re home (and of legal drinking age) to accept the package; no more need to physically sign for it.
“Contactless [delivery] is here to stay,” said Michel Cheng, Dean of Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Some wine store owners, eager to capitalize on the increase in off premise sales, added delivery services and upped their related customer service. For instance, in China some retailers offered to deliver purchases within 20 minutes, and to chill white wine upon request, according to Masuger.
“Some owners [in China] sleep in their stores to provide 24-hour service,” she said.
4. People Reverted to the Familiar
Over the last year, people drinking at home turned to “comfort” drinks that they were used to. However, this trend differed based on where the consumer was located, according to the experts.
For example, in general people flocked to their own country's wines because they were easier to obtain and their purchases supported local industry. “Demand for locally produced wines has grown,” according to Raimond. The desire for indigenous wine was especially prevalent in Eastern Europe, he noted.
This move was not limited to wine; there was an increased interest worldwide in other local producers, such as breweries, said Norell.
This trend took a slightly different tack in the United States, Norell pointed out. There consumers turned to well-known, big name supermarket brands rather than artisanal products.
5. Buyers and Sellers Increased their Digital Presence
Consumers looking for entertainment and education increased their use of the internet while drinking at home, with virtual tastings and online courses. Stores and wineries in turn added offerings to meet this demand.
They also increased their use of social media to reach out, according to Jean-Charles Boisset, President, Boisset Collection, in the United States. This push was particularly targeted at millennials.
“To engage younger consumers it’s essential that we migrate to be part of the social digital [world],” he noted.
We hope you find this information on 5 ways experts say the pandemic changed drinking at home thought-provoking. Please let us know whether you made any of these changes yourself and which changes may last beyond the pandemic.
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