Tito's still top brand as people consume more liquor during pandemic
Spirituous liquor sales increased during the pandemic and have not slowed even after lockdown restrictions have eased.
When bars, restaurants and clubs were forced to shut down last year, North Carolinians bought more liquor to drink at home, which the ABC Commission calls retail sales.
"When [lockdowns] happened, our retail jumped up. Because people weren't going to the bars, but they were in turn drinking from home," says Wake County Alcoholic Beverage Control General Manager Bryan Hicks. "Once some of these restrictions were relaxed, I think people came out of their shells, I guess you could say. [They] felt more comfortable with things. It was the same thing with the vaccines. I think more people felt comfortable being in social environments; being closer to other people."
But when restrictions lifted, and sales to bars and restaurants, called mixed beverage sales, rebounded, there wasn't a matching decline in retail sales.
"That pattern for retail sales being spiked up continued on; and it still continues on," said Hicks.
Retail liquor sales, which make up about 80-85% of total liquor sales, typically spike significantly in December. But May of 2020 saw retail sales that topped those from the prior December. Even when mixed beverage sales rebounded in mid-2021, retail sales continued to be strong.
Hicks said population increase plays a role, especially in Wake County, which is now the most populous county in the state. But the increase in liquor sales is larger than just population increase. Sales in 2021 are up 13% compared with last year, and are up a full 30% compared with 2019.
Tito's Handmade Vodka remains the top-selling liquor brand in the state by far. Vodkas in general are popular in North Carolina, with seven vodka brands in the top 10 of best-selling liquor brands, according to ABC Commission monthly sales figures.
Because liquor sales are tightly regulated in North Carolina, some of the revenue is returned to state and local governments. Last year, the ABC Commission distributed $530 million, of which nearly $400 million went to the state's general fund. About $14.5 million went to local alcohol education programs.
These are "nonprofit organizations that help with the treatment, research, and education for those with substance abuse or alcohol abuse [disorders]," said Hicks.