Alcohol sales increased during pandemic, staying high as restrictions loosen

(iStock photo)

Drinking is something of a well-practiced pastime during the best of times in Baton Rouge, but during the pandemic—with its isolating stay-at-home orders and social distancing restrictions—people apparently took it up a notch … or two.

Calandro’s Supermarket on Perkins Road has seen a large increase in alcohol sales, with store manager Blaise Calandro III tipping his glass to folks unable to visit bars and restaurants as well as the popularity of at-home mixology during the pandemic.

What’s happening here mirrors the national trend of increased alcohol sales, with Axios citing a survey from late 2020 that found 75% of Americans upped their alcohol consumption during the pandemic, drinking at least one more day per month. Data measurement company Nielsen found a 54% increase in alcohol sales from March 2019 to March 2020.

Why? People were bored and aggravated while stuck at home, says Laurel Dennis, co-owner of Churchill’s Wine and Cigars. Even cigar sales are up, she adds, pointing to a rise in customers who didn’t smoke previously.

Both Calandro and Dennis say the biggest sales increase has been in liquors, especially bourbon and tequila. 

Alcohol demand for restaurants and grocery stores increased some 30% during the pandemic, according to wholesaler Paul Bologna, owner of Paul Bologna Fine Wines, and sales have only dropped a tick with the return of in-restaurant dining.

Hokus Pokus Liquors in Prairieville saw record-breaking sales during the pandemic, says general manager Alex Van’t Leven, with June 2020 sales jumping 107% year-over. The spike is continuing even as restrictions disappear, with June 2021 sales up 22%.

“I’m not surprised by those numbers at all,” says Calandro, whose sales are up 20%-25% from 2019 figures. “We got that feeling by seeing the shelves and the amount of customers coming in.”