Audience shots #28: The impact of Covid-19 on our drinking habits
What has 2020 done to your alcohol consumption?
It felt like a lot of us were talking about booze on social media in early lockdown. ‘Quarantini’ is one of the delightful neologisms that 2020 is gifting to the English language (along with ‘maskne’ and everyone’s favourite, ‘social distancing’) and amusement hungry tweeters had a LOT of opinions when the actor Stanley Tucci revealed his negroni recipe.
Early lockdown retail sales figures had the media publishing panicked headlines about how Brits been plunged into an alcoholic haze in a bid to cope with anxiety, isolation and 24/7 child rearing.
The truth, it has since emerged, was more complex — these figures published in September show that the volume of alcohol consumed in the UK during the first lockdown halved compared to the same 17-week period in 2019.
It’s important to look at volume here as the period covered by these figures includes the weeks when pubs and restaurants were completely closed. Understandably supermarket booze sales rocketed and specialist retailers like Majestic Wine weren’t able to keep up with demand for deliveries. But as this blog post explains over half the alcohol sold in the UK is on trade — so in pubs and restaurants. Even after they were allowed to open again most of us haven’t reverted to our pre-lockdown habits.
At the same time, the University of Glasgow says its research shows early lockdown resulted in more binge drinking and a rise in the number of people who drink on four or more nights a week.
Based on Google Trends, it doesn’t seem as if a rise in abstinence accounts for the fall in alcohol volume sales. Here’s a five year look at searches for ‘give up alcohol’. Some of the lowest search figures from the past five years were in early lockdown.
We’re in the final week of Sober October, a Macmillan Cancer initiative which raises money for the charity and promotes the benefits of living without alcohol. Although some prefer the more traditional Dry January, plenty of us are taking part.
A look through Sober October-inspired social media posts highlights the massive trend for alcohol-free drinks that has emerged in the past couple of years. The #soberoctober hashtag is positively overflowing with 0% ABV beers, gin alternatives and this glass of… tofu?
The rise in sales of no-alcohol liquor has continued in lockdown according to reports but it’s interesting to see that Google Trends shows that probably the most famous alcohol-free spirit brand, Seedlip, has generally had less interest lately than at any point since 2017.
It’s the same for ‘low alcohol beer’ over the past 12 months.
Any alcohol drinker who’s spent a sober evening in the pub knows the feeling of wanting to have an ‘interesting’ soft drink to nurse while everyone else has their pints. Does that translate to drinking at home though?
This chart compares searches for ‘beer advent calendar’ to ‘alcohol free beer’ since September 2019. At this time last year they were roughly equal but fast forward to 2020 and we’re a lot more interested in counting down to Christmas with a craft ale in hand.
Maybe the real picture is moderate drinkers are consuming less while heavier drinkers are finding ever more reason to hit the bottle harder.