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Sales of Alcohol Skyrocket; Not So Much in PA

April 11, 2020 — Toilet paper isn’t the only thing being hoarded.  People are stocking up on adult beverages too.  When the farsighted folks who run the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced on March 16 that the state-run stores would be closed effective March 17, they thought it would keep people home.  Instead the stores were mobbed, with lines stretching around the block as consumers stocked up for a couple of weeks, which has turned into a month.  One- day sales for March 17 were the highest in 12 years of record keeping at just shy of $30 million.

Besides shuttering their 600 stores, the PLCB also closed down online orders.  Sounds like Prohibition was revisiting Pennsylvania.  However on April 1, online sales opened up with a limit of six bottles per order per day for home delivery and an adult signature.  It’s kinda working if you are really patient and persistent.  We tried to log on several different days including as we write this, but were greeted with the message that the system was overwhelmed. Really?  Here’s an idea:  reopen the stores.  If retailers of limited square footage such as Trader Joe’s to Costco’s huge warehouses can manage to take sanitary precautions and control the number of people in the stores at any one time, why can’t the PLCB?

Every day at this web site we are receiving plaintive emails from readers inquiring how to buy wine or spirits online and we know the writer is in PA, even if they don’t tell us.  If it’s wine you’re after, there are out-of-state wineries that are licensed to ship directly to consumers in Pennsylvania and there is a list on the PLCB web site.  It isn’t easy to find but here’s the link .

Meanwhile in the rest of the country where alcohol sales are somewhat more normal, adult beverage sales have skyrocketed.  Online sales alone have seen a 243% spike.  Of course this has caused great worry in the anti-alcohol community which immediately forecast an increase in addiction, violence and general disruption of society.  Sadly, there will be some of that but perhaps people would just like to take the edge off this difficult time with a glass of wine or a cocktail.  Interestingly, people who drink in moderation live longer than teetotalers and it is thought that’s because they are more relaxed and are more social.  Perhaps these people were used to a glass of something with dinner in a restaurant or dropping into a neighborhood bar.  That’s not happening now.

The news is very mixed for producers.  Since on-premise sales (bars and restaurants) are nonexistent, the jump in off-premise (grocery and liquor stores) is welcomed but nobody is partying so how long will it last now that the pantry is stocked?  And as the shelter in place regimen is extended, and economic conditions worsen, the surge in off-premise sales looks unsustainable.  As one might expect, large sizes are popular like 3-liter boxes of wine, 3-liter bottle of spirits, and 24-packs of beer and many buyers are foregoing premium brands. 

Wineries have lost a key element of their business – tasting room sales.  But they have wine clubs, which for many small wineries is their bread and butter.  Plus wineries can sell and ship direct to consumers, a huge advantage.  Buying wine online may become a habit for many wine lovers.

And what about all those craft brewers and distillers?  Times are tough and many may not make it.  Craft breweries rely on taprooms and sales of kegs to local restaurants and bars.  Similarly, craft distillers also depend on bars and restaurants and where permitted, tasting room sales.  There will be quite a shake out when the dust settles and we just hope and pray they survive.  One thing we all know is that things will be different.