The age of Trump: US consumers are drinking less

Friday, 1. June 2018 - 10:45

Adam Rogers, IWSR US research director

Wine sales volumes in the USA rose 1% in 2017 on the previous year. The bump is being attributed to the success of sparkling and canned products, and it defies a broader decline in total alcohol consumption of 0.7%, and shrinking consumer numbers, with only 62% of adults saying they drank alcohol in 2017, compared to 65% in 2016.

The data, released this week by drinks market analyst IWSR, showed that still wine sales rose a reasonable 0.9%, while sparkling wine volumes were up an impressive 4.3%, due in large part to the affordability of Prosecco.

“Typically, sparkling wine sales spike from November through January,” said IWSR’s US research director, Adam Rogers. But the craze for Prosecco means sparkling is now seen as “an everyday, year-round beverage”. Demand for rosé continues to outpace red or white, he added, and interest in low-alcohol wine is growing (although not the non-alcoholic variety). Also gaining ground are Bourbon-barrel aged red wines, particularly with male consumers.

Another factor working in wine’s favour is alternative packaging. “Bag-in-box wines have been growing at double-digit rates for years, but the most recent up-tick is from wine in cans,” said Rogers. Cans are highly portable, do not shatter and maintaining wine freshness is not an issue. The result is canned wines are now sold in places like stadiums, local breweries and nightclubs.

The misconception that wine is lower in calories than beer has also helped. And the wine industry doubled down on the idea by producing low-calorie wines, which also grew in popularity in 2017, along with alcoholic seltzer waters, Rogers said.

Asked about life at the coal face, wine manager, Anthony Quinn, at Washington DC’s Cleveland Park Wine & Spirits, mainly agreed. Dry rosé, sparkling wine under $20.00, boxes of wine and anything in a can or small bottle, have all been selling well, he said. Honey wine and cider, especially from the Basque region, are also very popular.

But life is not easy for smaller wines shops. “Wine demand is very strong all over, but for a small shop like ours, it’s getting hard to compete with the big food stores like Whole Foods, or something like Total Wine ... these days you really have to hustle.”

Quinn had another take on the broader trend of drinking less alcohol. “Trump [a teetotaller] has certainly not helped. People are feeling really depressed, more than I have ever seen. They say you drink more in hard times, but not in my current experience.” More optimistically, he said the shop’s tasting of a Drink Pink! rosé by Christian Stahl (who came to pour) for those returning from the 2017 Woman’s March on Washington went very well. “That brought us a bit of hope.”
Sophie Kevany