United States Bucking the Declining World Alcohol Consumption Trend

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

We live in a world of constant change.

We live in a world of constant effort to validate the latest definition of the term “news.”

We live in a world of tumultuous business plans and evolving business paradigms.

And we live in a world of constant trendsetting.

This week I’d like to focus on the last point above. Not because I choose not to address the other shifting paradigms noted above, but because it is a topic I feel most comfortable

relating to the world of wine and spirits. Trendsetting is no less dynamic than any of the other above considerations, yet it is more reasonably quantifiable in my sphere of writing this wine-centric column.

So, herewith my topic this week.

There are sea changes evolving in the consumption of wine and spirits. Trends, patterns and demographics are constantly in a state of flux, but the last few years have identified a significant change in the drinking habits of the world and, in particular, the United States.

In my weekly research, I came across a report by a wine and spirts research firm, IWSR, that tracks the sales of alcoholic beverages across world markets. In its recently released 2016 annual report, they found that the world is drinking less alcohol, and at an ever-increasing rate.

The global market for alcoholic drinks shrank by 1.3 percent, compared with an average decline of just 0.3 percent the previous five years.

Some of you may be surprised by this report. There is a growing perception that alcohol consumption – and its negative side effects – are on the rise. Likewise, a number of you may be disappointed: there is growing perception that alcohol consumption, specifically wine consumption, is on the rise for the medicinal benefits wine confers on our immune systems.

Let’s drill down into the major categories analyzed: beer, spirits and wine.

Beer sales worldwide are down 1.8 percent, triple the rate of the last five years. Leading the decline is Russia, down nearly 8 percent. Beer continues to be the most popular alcoholic beverage, accounting for 75 percent of all alcohol sales worldwide.

Spirits sales are led by vodka, which declined by 4.3 percent. As with reduced beer sales, Russia led the pack with a startling 9.3 percent decline, yet it remains the largest market for vodka sales. Overall, spirit sales were led by gains in gin, tequila and whisky, contributing to a slight increase in year over year worldwide sales.

Wine sales were basically flat, with a 0.1 percent decline worldwide. But when I drilled down, I found that sparkling wine sales increased by 1.8 percent, while all other wine sales (the dominant portion of the wine market) declined by 0.5 percent.

With these global statistics as a benchmark, let’s measure the state of alcohol sales in the United States.

Overall alcohol sales fared much better than on the global front, with a statistically minor drop of 0.1 percent. Why did the United States market fare so much better than the global market? Let’s drill down into the major categories again.

Beer sales were an anomaly. Overall, sales declined 1.5 percent. This was largely attributed to the top domestic brands, notably Bud Light. The imported beer segment increased by a whopping 6 percent, led by Mexico’s Corona brands.

Spirits sales rose 2.6 percent. This strong presence in the United States market was attributable to the growing popularity of whisky (up 6.4 percent), be it blended or single, rye or corn mash. Vodka continues its growth track, up by 2.3 percent, led by Tito’s and New Amsterdam. But keep an eye on tequila’s growth (7.4 percent) and Cognac’s resurgence (18.8 percent growth).

Wine sales achieved their 22nd consecutive year of growth (1.7 percent). The most significant growth component was sparkling wines (7.2 percent); still wines increased by 1.1 percent. Wines priced at $10 and up experienced sales growth of a whopping 7.2 percent.

The world’s citizens are curbing their alcohol consumption, while Americans continue their post-recession irrational exuberance. Is this a sign of the economic and political anomaly the United States is experiencing compared to many other countries? Only time will tell.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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