September 1, 2021

Analysis: The Resurgence of Non-Alcoholic Drinks

By Pattern Data Science / Amazon, Ecommerce Trends

To say that the past year and a half have been stressful times would be an understatement. And while many people dealt with that stress by picking up a new hobby or trying to bake the perfect loaf of sourdough, many Americans turned to another method to take the edge off: drinking.

According to a 2020 study, overall frequency of alcohol consumption increased by about 14% from 2019 to 2020. Survey respondents in that survey reported drinking alcohol on more days of every week as well as increases in the number of drinks they had.

With National Sober Day approaching on September 14th, nearly 18 months after the first pandemic lockdowns, we wanted to learn more about the potential long-term impact of COVID-19 on our drinking habits.

Are Americans feeling more inspired to sober up after a year of stress drinking? Or are we drinking more than ever before? Or are we seeing a rise in non-alcoholic beverages and “mocktails” this year?

We dove deep into our data to see if we could uncover any insight into how COVID-19 may have impacted America’s drinking habits, how 2021 is so far, and what that might mean for the future.

How did COVID-19 impact online demand for Non-Alcoholic Beverages?

As you can imagine, analyzing online demand on Amazon presents some challenges when it comes to trying to learn more about America’s drinking habits. While online shopping grew significantly during the pandemic, alcohol remains a regulated substance, so the local grocery store or liquor store are still where the vast majority Americans get their booze.

That doesn’t leave us without any options, of course. One of the first things we wanted to examine was sales for non-alcoholic beverages (which you can, of course, buy online).

First things first, let’s look at weekly demand since January 2020 for non-alcoholic beverages like non-alcoholic beer and the ever-growing selection of alcohol-free mocktail base beverages.

As you might expect, the New Year represents a major high point for demand for non-alcoholic beverages. January 2020 was the high point of that year, with demand settling into consistent levels through the earliest weeks of the pandemic and well into the summer and fall.

January 2021, meanwhile, saw demand for non-alcoholic beverages absolutely skyrocket, dwarfing the first weeks of January 2020 and has remained well above 2020 levels throughout this year so far.

This is early evidence that a large number of Americans are, indeed, trying to cut back this year.

A year-over-year comparison of monthly demand reinforces this theory:

Again, we see January and December being high points for both 2019 and 2020, with non-alcoholic beverages growing somewhat in popularity between both years.

2021, though, has consistently dwarfed both previous years. Even the slowest months of this year so far have seen demand outpace January of 2020.

Finally, let’s dig a little deeper and compare non-alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic spirits, and general searches for “non-alcoholic” items. Here’s how weekly demand for each changed from 2020 through 2021 so far:

Non-alcoholic beer actually did see a pretty significant surge in the weeks immediately following lockdown, and otherwise has experienced fairly inconsistent shifts in demand from week to week.

Demand for non-alcoholic spirits and general “non-alcoholic” searches both followed similar trends, peaking in January, and remaining consistently higher in 2021 compared to 2020.

Each of the charts above offers strong early evidence that there may be a growing segment of consumers who may be looking for some sober options after overindulging a bit while spending much of 2020 isolating at home.

Has demand for alcoholic drinks remained high through 2021 so far?

There’s clear evidence that online demand for non-alcoholic beverages is at an all-time high, but what about alcoholic beverages? Is demand for the strong stuff falling as demand for its counterpart goes up?

Again, this can be a bit hard for us to uncover, as Americans are unable to purchase alcoholic beverages on Amazon. A possible surrogate that people do love to shop for online, though, is barware and glassware.

When we examine weekly demand, we see a much more immediate impact in the early days of the pandemic. The first weeks of shutdowns actually saw demand for glassware and barware dip somewhat, an effect that was only temporary.

Demand very quickly rebounded and shot to a high point not matched until the Holiday shopping rush.

Post-holidays demand has remained remarkably consistent, but we’re not seeing early evidence that 2021 demand is up in the same way that we’ve seen for non-alcoholic beverages.

Our year-over-year view further supports this notion. May of 2020 saw unseasonably high demand, as millions of Americans got their home bar situation all set up in the face of closed bars and shelter in place orders.

Demand in early 2021 was ahead of 2020’s pre-pandemic levels, fell behind in May and hasn’t surpassed last year since.

Here’s a closer look at the change in weekly demand for different types of glassware:

Martini glasses experienced the quickest rebound following the initial lockdown dip, while margarita glasses experienced the most significant early rebound (during the week of Cinco de Mayo, of course).

The peak season for glassware is during the holidays, with demand increasing by 80% to over 100% during December for each type of glassware except for margarita glasses.

Again, 2021 appears to be strikingly similar to 2020 so far. Margarita glasses enjoyed another strong Cinco de Mayo, but most other types of glassware have seen demand hover right around 2020’s levels.

Of course, that doesn’t mean for certain that Americans are cutting back on purchasing alcohol. It could be that everyone got their home-bar situated last year and simply don’t need to restock.

However, it is at least some evidence that points toward demand for booze softening somewhat in the wake of last year’s binge.

Online demand in 2021: Non-alcoholic beverages vs. glassware and barware

Let’s close with one last, simple look at 2021 so far. We took online demand for each type of non-alcoholic beverage and item of glassware and barware from January 2021 through July 2021 and compared it to the same period in 2020.

Here’s what we found.

Again, 2021 so far has been huge for non-alcoholic beer, spirits, and non-alcoholic items as a whole.

Non-alcoholic beer has experienced the biggest increase, as demand during the first 7 months of this year was 85% greater than the same time last year.

Non-alcoholic spirits, meanwhile, has seen demand up by 64%, while demand for “non-alcoholic” items is up 60%.

Interestingly, shot glasses have had the next strongest 2021 so far, with demand up 28% vs. 2020. In fact, the glass and barware most associated with the strong stuff have been the ones who have had the stronger 2021. Wine glasses and pint glasses, meanwhile, have actually seen demand slow in 2021.

Again, we hesitate to declare in certain terms that demand for alcoholic beverages is slowing down in 2021, however, we are seeing clear evidence that demand for non-alcoholic beverages is way up.

A lesson for brands

Our data shows that non-alcoholic beverages are more popular than ever. While the pandemic initially had little impact on booze-free substitutes, it’s clear that more and more people are looking in that direction now that things have begun to reopen.

The pandemic did have a clear and immediate impact on home bar supplies, which supports other studies that suggested last year was an unusually heavy drinking year for millions of Americans.

Understanding the factors that influence consumer behavior can help brands better understand how to forecast demand for their products on online marketplaces, and even inform product design and marketing strategy.

For example, we may see non-alcoholic drinks continue to grow in popularity as more and more as 2021 draws to a close. However, with COVID cases surging in the wake of the Delta variant, we may see another run on home-bar equipment and a subsequent dip in demand for non-alcoholic drinks.

Either way, we’ll be keeping a close eye on these trends and more in the coming weeks and months.

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