Home Industry News Releases Nielsen COVID-19 Beverage Alcohol Insights

Nielsen COVID-19 Beverage Alcohol Insights


nielsenUnless otherwise noted, data and insights below are for the months of September and October 2020 compared  to the same time periods in 2019 (9 weeks ending 10/31/20 vs year ago) in Nielsen off premise channels.

Total Alcohol

For the months of September and October, total fast-moving  consumer goods sales have slowed to single-digit growth, up 9%  compared to the same time period last year. Given the ongoing  restrictions in bars and restaurants, as well as second round of  closures in some markets, alcohol sales continue to shift from on  premise to off premise, allowing off premise alcohol sales to surpass  growth rates of total fast-moving consumer goods. For September  and October, off premise alcohol dollars grew by 17.6% compared to  the same time period last year.

For September and October 2020, dollar growth rates for off premise spirits were up 26.3% compared  to 2019, slowing some since the summer. Spirit categories driving growth have been consistent  throughout most of COVID, with tequila up 55.5%, cognac up 56.2%, and ready-to-drink cocktails up  131% for September and October. Cordials are still performing relatively strongly, up 32.1%, as is  American whiskey, which is up 29.8%. Among these top growing categories, tequila gained the most  share, up 2.1 points. Cognac is up 1.1 share points, RTD cocktails are up nearly a share point (+0.8), and  American whiskey up 0.5 points, while total whiskey is down -0.5 points, driven by slower growth rates  for Canadian whisky and Scotch. Most of the share gains came at the expense of share losses to Vodka,  which is down 3.0 points in dollar share and up 12.1% in dollar growth, lagging growth of most other spirit categories. 

Premiumization in spirits continues at a similar pace to previous time periods during COVID. Ultra premium spirits are up 50%,  premium spirits up 28.7%, mid-tier spirits up 13.4%, and value  spirits up 3.9%. Ultra and premium spirits are gaining share at  faster rates than in pre-COVID time periods.


On premise velocity in outlets that are currently operational has increased +233% for the week of November 7 v March 28, when the on premise shutdown first commenced. Velocity in the latest week is down -26% compared to last year. Average outlet $ sales (velocity) are up +4% in the latest week (November 7 v October 31) across the U.S. This growth should be viewed within the context of declines in the week to October 31, where velocity was down -9% across the U.S. vs last week. 

Of the 5 states analyzed (CA, FL, TX, IL, NY), all are flat or growing in velocity for the week ending November 7 vs October 31. Following 2 weeks of significant velocity decline, Illinois shows velocity growth of +1% November 7 v October 31. However, Chicago enters its fourth week of consecutive decline, down -37% November 7 v October 10. The complete closure of all in-dining had an effect here. Texas remains the best state benchmarked against performance versus last year, with velocity in outlets that are operational in Texas being down only -7% November 7, 2020 v November 9, 2019.


While online alcohol sales have slowed from the 500+% growth rates during peak pantry-loading months earlier this year, they still continue to outperform most other consumer goods categories. For the month of September, online alcohol sales were up 256% compared to last year. Similar to offline  sales, spirits led growth up 354%, followed by beer/FMB/cider up 274%, and wine up 234%. While wine  continues to lead in share of online alcohol sales, that lead is diminishing, down 4.5 points compared to September of last year. 


During early months of the pandemic, off premise alcohol growth was fueled by the increase in buying  households and dollar spend per buyer. Beginning in July, growth in buyers slowed, which is also  reflected in the slowing of off premise growth in scan data during that same time period. Since June, off  premise alcohol spend per buyer has maintained similar growth rates, with a recent and slight  deceleration in October, driven in part by a decline in dollar spend for hard seltzers. We do, however,  see a slight increase in buyers for October, which could indicate a shift in buyers from on premise back  to off premise, with cooler weather coming and a second round of on premise closures beginning. 


This unprecedented year and pandemic will no doubt have an impact on the ways Americans are gathering — or not gathering — to celebrate the holidays. In a recent Nielsen insights article, our Global Intelligence Unit identified four emerging patterns to help predict the drivers of pandemic purchase decisions. When applied to the new consumer groups that will emerge this festive season, these reset patterns highlight some important considerations when converting holiday shopping opportunities this year. Please visit the article for more details!


To better understand COVID’s impact on upcoming fall and winter holiday celebrations, Nielsen conducted a consumer survey, fielded October 22, 2020 through November 2, 2020 to approximately  15,000 U.S. households, Below are highlights of the survey results for Thanksgiving. For more detailed  information and results for December holidays as well, please reach out to your Nielsen  representative or [email protected]


  • Nielsen.com: COVID-19: Tracking the Impact on FMCG, Retail and Media
  • Nielsen.com: How Americans are Shopping During COVID-19
  • Nielsen CGA: COVID-19: Measuring the On Premise Impact
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