Report: U.S. alcohol sales pass $6B, growth on the horizon

3 Feb 2022

Online sales of alcohol reached $6.1 billion in 2021, and that growth is expected to continue to climb through 2022, according to a new report from the global food and agribusiness bank Rabobank.

For grocery stores, the shift to online alcohol sales and the growth it engendered was the most pronounced among sales channels. From 2019 to 2021, online alcohol sales in grocery and marketplaces like Drizly and Instacart grew 271%, and are now nearly four times larger than they were in 2019, data from Rabobank’s 2022 Alcohol E-commerce Playbook showed. Overall, the digital category now represents about 4% of all off-premise alcohol sales in the U.S., increasing from nearly 1.9% in 2019.

Report: U.S. alcohol sales pass $6B, growth on the horizon

In response to this continued surge in online alcohol sales, many brands have beefed up their e-commerce teams. Rabobank found that the investment into these teams is significant with the average size of U.S. teams at alcohol companies increasing 117% since 2019.

"Companies that fail to proactively invest in their e-commerce teams will struggle to remain relevant and retain market share," said Bourcard Nesin, a RaboResearch F&A beverages analyst and author of the report.

Marketplaces like Drizly and Instacart, which are built with e-commerce as the primary retail strategy, are leading the pack and command the lion’s share of online alcohol sales. These two companies hold 86% of the market share, according to Rabobank.

Even with overall ballooning sales in this category, online grocery alcohol sales declined in the last three quarters of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. Nevertheless, Rabobank said that 2022 will be a “testament to the stickiness of the channel,” and expects that the category will grow 3.4% this year.

Although the trajectory for category growth is tempered, online alcohol sales still represent big business for brands and retailers. The report predicted that online alcohol sales will outpace the overall grocery business in a few years. Already, sales growth of the category has more than doubled that of the overall online grocery business.

"E-commerce will be the number-one driver of industry growth over the next decade and a critical component of brand building awareness and trial, both online and in-store," Nesin said in a release.

Wine was a particular beneficiary of this shift to online sales, with online direct-to-consumer wine sales growing 73% in 2020. Now, Rabobank estimates online sales represent around 23% of the $7.2 billion brought in by the direct-to-consumer wine business in the U.S. Spirits nearly tripled their share of sales during the pandemic. In 2021, wine had the largest sales by category with $3.8 billion. Spirits came in second place with $1.3 billion in sales. And beer accounted for $960 million of online dollar sales in 2021.

Rabobank said it was confident that this category would experience ongoing growth in the years to come and encouraged companies to look at the move to online alcohol sales as “a structural change, a massive opportunity."

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