US off-trade sales soar while bars begin to reopen across China

25 March, 2020

The US off-trade has seen soaring sales of wine, spirits and beer as shoppers stocked up ahead of a lengthy coronavirus lockdown, according to Nielsen stats.

Off-premise wine sales shot up by 27.6% year-on-year during the week to March 14, while spirits grew 26.4%. Total beer and cider sales increased by 14% compared to the same week in 2019.

All three categories were enjoying modest growth in the preceding three-month period, highlighting the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on retail sales.

There are now 55,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US and the death toll has gone past 750. Many governors have called a state of emergency, forcing all non-essential businesses to shut their doors and ordering people to shelter at home.

Shoppers responded by stockpiling alcohol – along with guns and cannabis – to see them through an extended period of disruption to their normal lives. However, sales lagged behind popular items like toilet paper and hand sanitizers.

“While beverage alcohol categories are all experiencing double-digit growth, they lag growth rates for total consumer goods,” said Danelle Kosmal, vice president of beverage alcohol practice at Nielsen. “For the week ending March 14, when many consumers were stocking up on perishables, cleaning products and toilet paper, total consumer goods grew by 40% in Nielsen all U.S. outlet channels.

“To me, this is an indication that beverage alcohol is important to consumers, but other consumer goods categories are being prioritized, at least for now.”

Most states have permitted liquor stores and other off-trade drinks retailers to continue operating as essential businesses during the lockdown. The majority of bars and restaurants have had to close.

“As more and more on-premise locations close, I think we will continue to see off-premise sales for beer, wine and spirits grow even more, and closing the gap with other consumer goods,” added Kosmal.

Off-trade alcohol sales are also soaring in countries like the UK, France and Australia as bars close and millions familiarise themselves with isolation and social distancing.

Bars have reopened in China and they are already enjoying strong sales after remaining shuttered for a month due to the coronavirus outbreak.

COVID-19 was first traced to a wet market in Wuhan, Hubei province, before Christmas. The government took drastic steps to contain the coronavirus and flatten the curve of infections.

Bars had to shut up shop for a month across the country, but they are now open for business again, which could spark hope among disconsolate bar owners in Europe and North America.

44KW, a nightclub in Shanghai, opened its doors again on Thursday, and it is packed full of cocktail sipping clientele.

“Right now we need music,” said manager Kaijie Huang. “A lot of people seem very lonely because they all had to stay at home.”

The World Health Organization has also praised South Korea for its swift and effective response to the coronavirus outbreak.

It was initially one of the worst hit countries in the world, but it managed to rapidly flatten the curve and avoid an economically damaging lockdown. Swift action, widespread testing and contact tracing, and critical support from citizens made it possible.

Bars were ordered to close for 15 days on March 22, but there is hope that they will be able to open again on April 5 as the number of coronavirus cases continues to plummet in the country.

President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Stefan Löfven of Sweden have both called South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, to request details on the country’s measures.

If other countries can follow in its footsteps, it suggests the world could return to relatively normality without this global lockdown dragging on for too many months. “South Korea is showing Covid-19 can be beat with smart, aggressive public health,” said Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. 

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