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 the new year approaching, there’s no doubt that many Americans have “cut back on drinking” high on their resolutions for 2022, especially after what the last two years have looked like. So we wanted to learn more about the potential long-term impact of COVID-19 on our drinking habits and how things are trending heading into the new year.
Are Americans feeling more inspired to sober up after a couple years 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 looked, and what that might mean for 2022.
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 of 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.
Demand for non-alcoholic beverages began to climb the week of Dec 13th and then absolutely skyrocketed on the last week of the year. Demand then remained high throughout January 2021, dwarfing New Year’s 2020, which suggests there were a lot more people interested in alcohol free alternatives after the first year of COVID.
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 outperformed both previous years. Interestingly, though, we saw demand dip slightly between October and November this year. It’s too early to tell if this is a sign of a broader slowdown in demand, or a simple anomaly, but we will be keeping a closer eye on this over the coming weeks.
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. This is the category that has been trending downward the most as we enter the holiday season, which is something to keep an eye on.
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.
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, which was tremendous. 2021, meanwhile, has been remarkably consistent throughout the year. What remains to be seen is whether this holiday season will match last year’s heights.
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 May’s surge, and has trended pretty close to 2020 levels in the months 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 saw demand hover right around 2020’s levels for much of the year.
Martini glasses have seen the largest early holiday shopping surge, with wine glasses and shot glasses not far behind. Pint and pilsner glasses, meanwhile, have yet to see a holiday surge in our analysis as of the last week of November.
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.
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.
Just “non-alcoholic” as a broad term has experienced the biggest increase, as demand in 2021 has been up by 52% compared to 2020. Non-alcoholic spirits, meanwhile, has seen demand up by 51%, while demand for non-alcoholic beer is up 34%.
Interestingly, shot glasses have had the next strongest 2021 so far, with demand up 22% vs. 2020. In fact, the glass and barware most associated with the strong stuff have been the ones who have had the largest 2021. Wine glasses and pint glasses, meanwhile, have actually seen demand slow down in 2021.
Again, we hesitate to declare in certain terms that demand for alcoholic beverages is slowing down in 2021, especially until after we’ve been able to fully analyze data from the holiday surge. However, we are seeing clear evidence that demand for non-alcoholic beverages is way up.
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 and people start looking toward 2022. However, with the uncertainty surrounding the Omicron variant as the holiday break approaches, 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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