Off-premise beer category dollar sales have topped $1 billion in three of the last four weeks, according to market research firm Nielsen.
Sales of beer, cider and FMBs increased 20.3%, to $1.006 billion, for the one-week period ending June 13, Nielsen reported.
Category sales also reached $1 billion for the weeks ending May 23 and May 30, which bookended Memorial Day weekend, a key selling period for the beer industry. For the week ending June 6, beer category dollar sales fell just short, at $998.4 million.
Nevertheless, growth trends have slowed compared to the pantry-loading days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the on-premise continues to expand openings across the country, trends for alcohol off-premise sales have experienced a steady slowing of growth since early May,” Nielsen VP of beverage alcohol practice Danelle Kosmal noted.
Within the beer category, growth rates have begun to decelerate with the exception of two segments: super premiums (+22.7%) and FMBs (+19%).
Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Michelob Ultra led the super premium segment and increased dollar sales 29.7%, making it the No. 2 growth brand in the beer category. The No. 1 spot was occupied by Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw Hard Seltzer, which is the growth leader in a fast growing segment.
“Hard seltzer rates continue to hover around 250% and maintain share above 10%, accounting for 10.4% of total category dollars for the latest week,” Kosmal wrote.
Total alcohol sales were up 21.2% compared to the same week in 2019. This is more than twice the growth rate of total fast-moving consumer goods, which increased 10.1% over the same period last year. Within alcohol, dollar sales of spirits increased 25.1% over last year, while wine sales increased 20.1%.
“Throughout COVID weeks, an increase in the number of households purchasing alcohol has been one of the primary drivers of growth for off-premise dollars,” Kosmal wrote. “However, in recent weeks, the growth in the number of buyers is beginning to slow.”
For the four weeks ending June 6, the number of alcohol buyers increased 14.7% over the same period last year. However, that number has steadily declined month-to-month. For the four weeks ending May 5, the number of purchasers was up 16.2% over last year. And for the four weeks ending April 11, which included the pandemic’s early pantry-stocking weeks, total alcohol buyers were up 20.5% compared to 2019.
Alcohol shoppers have increased across all classes of trade. Liquor stores have seen the strongest growth, with a 25.4% increase in the number of alcohol buyers during the latest four-week period, followed by club stores (+17.2%) and grocery stores (+14.2%).
One indicator Nielsen tracked to show that the closure of on-premise retailers was affecting consumers’ off-premise purchasing behaviors was tequila sales, which have spiked.
“As consumers were preparing for initial shutdowns and then longer-term stay-at-home orders, they most likely were stocking their pantries with all types of spirits that they potentially wanted during the shutdown, particularly tequila, which is one of the leading spirits in the on-premise,” Kosmal wrote.
Although off-premise beer sales have spiked since the pandemic began, sales have not been enough to offset the loss of on-premise sales.