The big dry: "Worst month on record" for alcohol sales

The big dry: "Worst month on record" for alcohol sales

Despite polls showing more Australians turned to the drink at home to alleviate coronavirus-related stress, data from the industry has uncorked a a dramatic decline in volume due to the closure of pubs, clubs and bars.

A report released over the weekend from Alcohol Beverages Australia (ABA) demonstrates Zoom parties failed to make up for the decline in alcohol consumption that would normally take place at household gatherings.

"Despite some initial pantry filling in March, April has been the worst month on record for sales of beer, wine and spirits, consistent with ABS data showing consumption has fallen during the COVID-19 crisis," says ABA chief executive officer Andrew Wilsmore.

"The biggest category, beer saw a 44 per cent drop in April and cider saw the biggest decline at 61 per cent due to the loss of social occasions."

The ABA claims the decline in alcohol sales reflects the sad reality that almost half a million jobs have been lost in hospitality and around $8.5 billion in business revenue has dried up.

"Wine producers are also reporting volume losses of up to 70 per cent among small and medium sized enterprises who rely on restaurants as their main route to market," says Wilsmore.

"Major wine brands suffered a small decline in April before falling 16 per cent in the first two weeks of May."

The sudden closure of distillery doors and regional tourism in late March led to revenue declines of up to 80 per cent for local distillers.

Wilsmore says spirit volumes were down 21 per cent in April while ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages dropped 37 per cent, representing both a tale of woe and resilience.

"We knew that the total loss of trade from pubs, bars, clubs, and restaurants was never going to be made up for by a brief, small surge in panic buying during the week people were concerned bottleshops would also close," he says.

National polling in april conducted by YouGov Galaxy, commissioned by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), showed 20 per cent of Australians purchased more alcohol and 70 per cent of them were drinking more alcohol than normal.

One third of respondents to the poll were drinking alcohol on a daily basis.

But Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data illustrates the vast majority of people - more than than 85 per cent - are drinking responsibly during the pandemic, with their behaviours either unchanged or drinking less.

"The ABS data shows that 30 per cent of Australians are largely abstaining or not consuming alcohol; 47 per cent are drinking the same; and 10 per cent are drinking less. Only 14 per cent of Australians reported that their drinking had increased.," says Wilsmore.

"DrinkWise sought to dig deeper, commissioning independent research into Australian adults' experiences of purchasing alcohol and drinking at home, through a nationally representative sample of 1000 consumers.

"Of those who chose to drink, the research found that drinkers were maintaining average consumption of three standard drinks. Over the course of the week, this amounted to just over eight standard drinks in total - well within the official government guidelines."

He adds for Australians who reported their consumption of alcohol at home had increased, the vast majority continued to drink at moderate levels.

The industry representative explains his sector has been "the most severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic".

"The loss of jobs and revenue in this sector has been crippling," he says.

"At the peak of isolation measures, 441,400 jobs had been lost in hotels, pubs, clubs, restaurants, cafes, takeaway, coffee shops, accommodation hotels and casinos. This represents a loss of a third of their total workforce.

"The hospitality sector has seen an $8.5 billion fall in revenue, which represents 10 per cent of their annual sales.

"The drinks industry was not immune to these employment effects, given its heavy reliance on hospitality and tourism, experiencing a 15.55% workforce decline that severely impacted the livelihoods of many Australians."

Updated at 12:20pm AEST on 25 May 2020.

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