Locked down and liquored up? UniSA research reveals the truth about Australians’ drinking during COVID-19

By Michèle Nardelli

Woman drinking wine in lock down

Researchers at UniSA’s Ehrenberg Bass Institute for Marketing Science have found that despite predictions that the lockdown might cause a spike in alcohol consumption, the truth is there was very little change in people’s drinking habits during the restrictions.

Not only did overall wine consumption rates remain reasonably stable, but people tended to buy their wine from the same places and drink wine on the same occasions.

In a new paper – How has wine and alcohol purchasing and consumption changed during COVID-19 isolation in Australia? – UniSA researchers found that across red and white wine, beer and spirits, only 15 to 18 per cent of respondents reported drinking more often than before lockdown.

Between 82 and 85 per cent of those surveyed were consuming none, less or about the same of all types of alcohol as they were before the lockdown.

Research lead Professor Larry Lockshin says the representative survey of Australian wine consumers conducted in May this year, will form part of a wider international project being undertaken by the Academy of Wine Business Research across 11 countries to compare how different countries and cultures reacted to pandemic isolation measures.

“Despite a lot of predictions about how people would drink more, how they might join online wine tasting groups or party and drink with friends online and even buy their alcohol online – the survey has shown there has been very little change in buying and consumption habits in Australia,” Prof Lockshin says.

“We also asked our respondents where they were buying their wine during the COVID-19 lockdown. Again, there were no major changes in purchasing behaviour after lockdown. Many respondents did not purchase wine from online retailers (57 per cent did not), winery websites (61 per cent did not), or cellar doors (62 per cent did not) during lockdown. Most shoppers stuck with their regular retail outlets.”

The online figures especially seem to show that much of the sales volume from those outlets were the same customers just buying more; not a large influx of brand-new customers.

“Early data showing a spike in alcohol purchases in March, has been followed by fairly sharp declines in sales of beer and cider, spirits and wines in April and May, according to BeverageDaily.com (2020), which would suggest, much like with groceries, people were stocking up ahead of the shutdown,” Prof Lockshin says.

“Based on our research, Australian alcohol consumption appears to be relatively unchanged by the pandemic and it will be interesting to see if that changes as consumers are once again able to go to restaurants, bars and clubs and drink in real time and in real life with their friends.”

This research was based on a survey of almost 270 Australian wine consumers between 18 to 65+ and was split equally between men and women.