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Aussies drinking less during COVID-19

April 22, 2020
By Alana House

Alcohol Beverages Australia says Australians are drinking less during COVID-19, with liquor sales falling 10-30% overall.

An editorial by Dr Sarah Callinan and Dr Michael Livingston, senior researchers at La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (‘Will COVID-19 change our drinking habits long term?‘), has suggested that Australian are drinking more during the pandemic.

“A rise in people drinking to cope with all the stresses associated with the pandemic is a cause for concern,” the researchers said.

“Furthermore, home drinking is thought to be highly habitual; an increase in alcohol consumption at home during the pandemic might be difficult to reverse when the pandemic is over.”

It follows national polling by YouGov Galaxy, commissioned by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) that showed one in five Aussies have purchased more alcohol than usual during the pandemic, and the majority are drinking more.

Andrew Wilsmore Alcohol Beverages Australia

ABA CEO Andrew Wilsmore (above) said the claims by the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research couldn’t be further from the truth.

“As researchers in the alcohol field, they should have had more caution in equating an increase in packaged liquor or home-delivery sales to many Australians drinking to excess while at home during this crisis,” Wilsmore said.

“There has been a total decimation of ‘on-premise’ sales through pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants.

“Our beer, wine and spirits producing members are all telling us that this loss of sales has only marginally been made up for by an increase in packaged retail liquor sales.

“Indications are that overall sales and volume loss range from 10-30%, with many small producers even more severely impacted as they are unable to access the retail channel and/or have had to close their cellar/brewery/distillery door.

“It is also important to understand that consumption doesn’t necessarily occur shortly after the time of purchase for packaged liquor sales, but normally occurs over a considerably longer period of time. In time, I’d anticipate that we’ll learn that the trend towards moderation and premiumisation that has occurred over the last two decades has been maintained.”

Alcohol sales fall over Easter

Commonwealth Bank figures show Easter alcohol sales fell sharply this year compared to 2019.

Wilsmore told The Brisbane Times there is usually a lift in alcohol sales – both in the off and on-premise – in the week before Easter.

But this year’s figures for the week ending April 10 (Good Friday) show total alcohol sales by dollar value were down 13% on a year ago.

While the dollar value of bottle shop sales was 22% higher, all other alcohol services were down 72%.

“Spending on alcohol had been holding up because of the spike in sales at bottle shops,” Commonwealth Bank head of Australian economics Gareth Aird said. “But alcohol spend has since rolled over as the unprecedented drop in spending at hotels, pubs and bars far outweighs the lift in sales at bottle shops.”

One in three drinking less in UK lockdown

An Opinium survey of more than 2000 adults for the charity Alcohol Change UK has found one in three (14 million) were drinking less or taking steps to stop during COVID-19.

A small but significant proportion (6%) said they had stopped drinking entirely. Other trends included the emergence of drink-free days, adopted by 14% of people. 

The Opinium survey, carried out from April 8 to 14, found that nearly half (47%) of people who drank once a week or less have cut down or stopped consuming alcohol, compared with just over a quarter (27%) of people who drank two to six times a week, and one in five (17%) of daily drinkers.

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