Coronavirus: Take-home alcohol sales almost 40% higher than last year

Some €158m spent on alcohol in the Republic over the past four weeks

The sale of take-home alcohol in recent weeks is almost 40 per cent higher than it was in the same period last year, new figures show.

Some €158 million was spent on off-trade alcohol in the four weeks leading up to April 5th, according to statistics from Nielsen, which collects data from supermarkets, off-licences and discount stores.

Stout had the biggest percentage growth, with value sales growing by more than 80 per cent, or €3.1 million, over the four-week period, compared with the same period last year.

Lager saw a 51 per cent – or €14.6 million – increase, while whiskey sales rose by 42 per cent or €3.4 million.


There was also a spike in the sale of wine which increased by 34 per cent to €53 million in the four-week period, while sparkling wines and champagnes have seen a slight decline of 1.1 per cent.

While off-licences had the biggest channel growth, with sales growing about 50 per cent, supermarkets and discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl still make up the bulk of alcohol sales in Ireland.

Nicole Farren, an analyst with Nielsen, said sales continuously increased as the pandemic restrictions became more severe.

“When it was announced about not leaving the house apart from essential journeys, that’s when we really saw the peak of alcohol sales,” Ms Farren said.

“It went up 54 per cent versus the same period last year. There were alcohol sales that week alone of €41.6 million – that equates to 12.3 per cent of the overall sales for that week.”

Ms Farren noticed drinks that were typically drank in a pub saw the biggest increase in sales.

“Stout in the latest week is up 182 per cent versus the same week last year. Stout is a real in-pub drink and people enjoy it if they’re going out,” she said.

“It’s not generally particularly common to drink it at home. People are trying to replicate their experiences; they want to make it as close to their old life as they can.”

‘Quite frightening’

Sean Harty, chairman of addiction counsellors Ireland, said the sales figures were "quite frightening".

“Alcohol misuse has always been a public health issue, but it will now become a public health emergency,” Mr Harty said. “We’re going to go from one pandemic to another. We are in for a tsunami of issues following this pandemic.”

He acknowledged that people who normally drank in pubs could now just be drinking at home, but added there were downsides to home-drinking, particularly during stressful times.

“You’re sitting at home drinking alcohol on your own to self-soothe. You’re drinking to get out of your head, so you think you have to keep drinking,” he said. “You’re not drinking socially; you’re drinking to get drunk.”

Drinkaware, the industry-funded alcohol awareness charity, said it received some 40,000 visits to its alcohol and Covid-19 support page in the first nine days of its publication.

Asked to comment on trends in alcohol sales during the pandemic, the National Off-Licence Association said its members represented “a small fraction of the overall take-home market”.

A spokeswoman for Lidl said the supermarket chain had “experienced significantly stronger sales in many categories, alcohol being only one. As always, we advise customers to drink responsibly.”

Patricia Callan, director of Drinks Ireland, a representative group for alcoholic drinks manufacturers, said with the closure of pubs, restaurants and hotels, they anticipated that off-trade sales would increase.

“However, this increase will not compensate for the loss in sales associated with the on-trade being closed, so we expect that overall alcohol consumption will be down,” she said.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times