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Data shows alcohol consumption fell in 2020

Roy Morgan says data gathered from its continuous survey of tens of thousands of Australians reveals widespread fears about excessive alcohol consumption during 2020 have proven to be baseless.

Panic-buying in liquor stores and screenshots of Zoom happy hours in the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a flood of warnings that Australians’ alcohol consumption was on the rise. However the data showed something different. In fact, alcohol consumption continued to decline gently during 2020 as it has done for the past decade and a half – although there were notable exceptions last year, including wine and spirits, which both picked up during the course of the year.

In a rolling survey conducted over a 12-month period with more than 15,000 people, respondents were asked whether they had drunk any alcohol during the previous four weeks, and if so what kinds of alcohol and how many drinks.

Back in 2006, when Roy Morgan began collecting this data to produce the Alcohol Report, 73.5% of Australians enjoyed a drink in an average four-week period. In the 12 months to September 2020 that was down to 66.4%.

However while overall consumption is down, the percentage of Australians drinking spirits is up, rising from 25.3% in 2006 to 30.8% in 2020. In terms of age-breakdowns, 18- to 24-year olds are proportionally the most likely to choose spirits, with 37.5% doing so compared to 28.1% of 50- to 64-year olds — so much for the stereotypes of Boomers with a G&T or Scotch on the rocks in hand. (Wine is by far the most popular Boomer choice.)

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine says packaged liquor sales spiked during 2020 but that doesn’t mean overall consumption rose.

“There was a lot of hypothesising about the changes to various purchasing and consumption habits that might result from the pandemic,” she said. “Some of that speculation proved accurate — for instance the huge shift to shopping online. But some did not, and our data shows the dire warnings about huge rises in the level of alcohol consumption fall into that category.

“It’s true that alcohol retailers had a boom year. Retail turnover figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that alcohol retail sales reached $15.6 billion in 2020, a 26.7% increase on 2019. However there are two factors at play here, one obvious, one less so. First, people might not have been drinking more, but they were certainly drinking differently, with the option to go out to bars or have wine over dinner much reduced or simply not available to millions of people for months at a time.

“The less obvious factor is the move towards premiumisation we’ve seen among the high-spending group of ‘NEO consumers’ identified in our research. This significant part of the population isn’t drinking more, in fact many are drinking less, but they are spending more on higher quality product.”

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