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US wine sales in stores up 14% in 5th week of coronavirus lockdown but tripled via e-commerce

U.S. consumers still seem to be buying more adult beverages in stores and online during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the latest data from Nielsen.

Wine sales in stores and other off-premises channels the market research firm tracks rose 14.1% the week of April 18 from a year before but were down 3.3% from the previous week. The company on Tuesday attributed that difference to earlier timing of Easter this year, which came April 12, compared with April 21 last year. That said, the firm noted that the bump in sales for Easter day this year was only 5.3% year over year, compared with the 13% rise for the day in the past four years, the firm said.

For the seven weeks of noticeable impact from COVID-19 - since March 7 - wine off-premises sales were up 29.4% in dollar sales overall from a year before. Hot wine package-size and price categories in the pandemic have been 1.5- and 3-liter boxes, as well as standard 750-milliliter bottled wine retailing for $20-$25 and $11-$15.

Spirits sales in stores had the strongest growth in beverage alcohol for the week of April 18, up 27.4% over 12 months and up 3.2% from the prior week, according to Nielsen. But beer, malt beverages and cider growth trailed wine, up 12.3% for the year but down 0.9% for the week. Total beverage alcohol sales in stores were up 15.9% year over year though down 0.6% from the previous week.

Beverage alcohol purchases in stores has been more consistent since the big stock-up early in the pandemic (weeks of March 14 and 21) then slacking off in such buying the week of March 28, according to Danny Brager, senior vice president of beverage alcohol for Nielsen. And consumers still seem to be reaching for pricier libations, with the average price per equivalent volume is still ahead of where it was last year, he said in an email.

“Perhaps we'll see that slow or reverse in the months ahead, but we also recognize that consumers are transferring money they might have spent on alcohol in a restaurant, bar or tasting room to something they are buying at lower mark-ups from stores or online, or from those on premise establishments that are offering alcohol to go at much reduced prices than ‘normal,'” Brager said.

Online sales of alcohol for the weeks of March 7 to April 18 were up 234% from a year before, and up five-fold since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Nielsen data partner Rakuten Intelligence. Seventy percent of those sales are of wine, Nielsen said.

The weeks of March 21 through April 25 have seen a dramatic direct-to-consumer channel shift from tasting rooms to online sales, including a slight increase in net sales by e-commerce and at the facility, according to a new report from Commerce7, a British Columbia-based firm that claims 273 global winery users, mostly from California. In looking at vintners that have been using the system since Jan. 1, the dollar volume of tasting room sales on the platform has been at the level of e-commerce before the pandemic, but online sales have climbed higher.

But share of sales via the wineries' clubs remains around one-quarter, after a spike of a few percentage points for the weeks of March 21 and 28, according to Commerce7. That's the “pantry stuffing” period just after the shelter orders that also caused a spike in beverage alcohol sales from grocery and other stores, per Nielsen.

But club cancellations have been outpacing sign-ups for new members in seven of the nine weeks since late February, a trend Commerce7 attributes partly to the closure of tasting rooms, a primary place where vintners sell memberships.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Contact him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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