The last three months of the year (October, November, December — or OND) are always busy and important for beer, wine & spirits retailers.
This year will undoubtedly be different, but probably no less important.
Smaller, more distant gatherings will replace large family get-togethers during the holidays, meaning normal OND purchasing patterns will be moot.
Beyond that, as the weather cools in most of the U.S., restaurants (and consumers) may revert back to mid-pandemic behaviors. That means a resurgence of competition from restaurants-as-retailers and a continuation of at-home drinking patterns.
Here’s what we predict on the sales front for local off-premise retailers over the next three months.
Spirits enter OND at a higher starting point than previous years.
Last year, spirits entered Q4 strong. 3×3 Retail Network data shows that the category represented 40% of all bev-alc sales at the start of October 2019, and finished the year at a strong 45.75%.
2020 tells a different story. The same data shows that spirits have stayed above 40% of sales all year, and are entering OND at 47%.
This is already a record for the category. The start-of-season numbers are ahead of every end-of-season record since at least 2015.
That means, in a not-so-dependable world, spirits are something you can pretty safely count on.
Here are some spirits trends to watch this quarter:
- Canned cocktails: We (and everyone else watching the industry) have talked at length about the rise of the RTD this year. It’s a simple, convenient and pandemic-aligned way to get a good cocktail. Specifically RTD cocktails made with liquor (rather than FMBs) could benefit from the high sales expectations for the spirits category.
- Tequila: Thanks to the quarantine resurgence of the margarita (a hard-to-mess-up, easy-to-batch cocktail), tequila had a stellar year. Over Labor Day weekend, Espolon tequila moved into the top five best-selling liquor brands on Drizly, six spots stronger than last year.
- Irish whiskey: Data shows that, in the U.S., Irish whiskey is one of the fastest-growing spirits categories. Jameson has been dominant (to the tune of 80% of the $1.1 billion in Irish whiskey sales), but competition is on the rise—and trending premium. This could also spell good news for American single-malt varieties, which can share a lot of flavor and style notes with Irish varieties.
Wine is on a steady ship, behaving fairly normally.
Despite tariffs, wine country fires and a ravaging pandemic, wine is on track for a solid, growth-driven end-of-year.
At the start of the month, 3×3 Retail Network data showed wine hovering around 25% of bev-alc sales. We expect that to grow to about 33% by 12/31, which is on track with previous years.
How did the category stay so steady?
During the pandemic, people (especially millennials) returned to wine, which is comforting, low-effort and accessible. High-earning millennials in cities, especially, leaned hard on accessible blends: After COVID-19 hit, they became 1.5 times more likely to buy both red and white blends than the national average.
People are drinking wine more often while at home, turning to familiar e-commerce channels as well as local businesses to buy.
But smooth sailing isn’t guaranteed. The effect from the wildfires in the western U.S. is still not fully known. Producers who anticipate lower yields for 2021 may offer less inventory to retailers until they’re sure about volumes for next year. Tariffs, too, remain unpredictable.
Best thing for a retailer to do to weather the storms alongside the category? Diversify. Stock wines from various regions. If a product or variety falls through because of low inventory or high tariffs, there will be a suitable backup to keep consumers stocked through this unusual holiday season.
Beer continues to decline, suffering from shifts in demand.
In a normal year, beer loses about 10% of category share to wine and spirits during Q4, 3×3 Retail Network data shows.
This year, nothing is normal. Beer’s category share has already fallen 20% YoY. This would put it at 10-12% of total bev-alc sales in December.
With those dismal declines, it’s no surprise that big beer brands are looking past EOY and into 2021 for what’s next. Hard seltzer, which should finish 2020 at 10% of all beer category sales, is a lifevest.
Here’s what we saw moving in that space:
- Molson Coors partnered with Coca Cola to distribute Topo Chico Hard Seltzer in 2021
- Constellation is expanding its Corona Hard Seltzer line with new flavors and SKUs come 2021
- AB-InBev is bringing Michelob Ultra Organic Hard Seltzer into the mix in January 2021
Think like the big guys this winter: Keep beer inventory lean. Focus on a diverse slate of wines and spirits. Think about promoting and driving hard seltzer traffic in 2021.
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