US wine sales surged in March

Queues round the block and astonishing sales spikes – American consumers are buying wine at a furious rate. But how long will this continue?

Photo by Michel Rémy on Unsplash
Photo by Michel Rémy on Unsplash

US alcohol retailers have seen dramatic spikes in sales since March, with bottles flying out the door at rates that are triple those of the year before. The demand is so great, that some local officials have had to backtrack on decisions to close down alcohol stores.

“We’ve experienced a surge in demand as consumers have turned to e-commerce for all of their daily needs, with disproportionate growth in new customer counts,” wrote Rich Bergsund, CEO of Wine.com, in an email.

Bergsund added that Wine.com sales more than doubled in March and “are currently running at three times last year’s pace. We are currently selling and shipping over a million dollars (50,000 bottles) per day.”

Wine.com has had to hire 300 new workers in six states, just to keep up. “New customers are trying us at five times our normal pace, and people are joining StewardShip (our annual free shipping membership) at ten times our normal pace,” he continued. Customers are also engaging more deeply with wine, “getting advice from our live chat sommeliers at four times our normal pace.” In March alone, customers bought 21,000 different wines, “discovering bottles from all over the world – not just what they normally buy at their local grocery or liquor store.”

Queuing chaos

So great is the demand for alcohol that some local officials have had to overturn bans. The Wall Street Journal reports that on March 16, Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board said it would close its nearly 600 Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores next day. The decision was to keep people at home, but it backfired—locals raced to stock up while they still could. Lines stretched around the block and sales that day reached $30m. While the Control Board is allowing some online sales, the Wall Street Journal also reports that “many residents are now driving to neighbouring states to buy alcohol, potentially bringing the virus with them.”

In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock had to reverse the decision to close down liquor stores, after it led to panic buying.

CNN quotes Nielsen figures showing that, by the third week of March, alcohol sales in the US had risen by 55%. It wasn’t all good news for wine; “hard seltzers”, which have taken a big chunk of the alcohol market, saw sales grow by 106%.

The big question is whether these kinds of sales can continue, especially as the recession deepens and more people lose their jobs. CNN quoted Danelle Kosmal, vice president of Nielsen’s Beverage Alcohol Practice Area as saying that sales may fall as more Americans lose their jobs.

Not only that, but the World Health Organisation fears that people will use alcohol as an “unhelpful coping strategy” during the lockdowns.

For the moment, though, wine sales are buoyant.

Felicity Carter
 

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