Alcohol sales decreased by a total of 35.6% in April 2020 compared to the same month last year, according to data released by Nielsen.

Beer and cider sales were down by 36% and 24 million less pints were pulled compared to April 2019. Spirit sales declined by 13% in the same period.

In a statement Drinks Ireland “confirmed that alcohol consumption has fallen in Ireland as a result of Covid-19 restrictions and the closure of the on-trade, with the total volume of sales down by 35.6% in April 2020 compared to April 2019”.

The figures include sales in both the on and off-trade.

Drinks Ireland stated that alcohol sales increased in the off-trade in April, but the closure of the on-trade (pubs, restaurants, etc) resulted in an overall decline of alcohol consumption in Ireland in the month.

Off-trade sales increase

While 24 million fewer pints of beer and cider were consumed, sales of beer and cider in the off-trade (supermarkets, off-licences, etc) increased by 58% compared to 2019.

Drinks Ireland noted that 60% of beer and cider sales generally take place in the on-trade.

The figures also show that 4.9 million fewer 35.5ml serves of spirits were sold in April 2020 compared to the same month in 2019.

Off-trade sales of spirits increased by 24%.

Malting barley farmers face uncertainty

The reduction in alcohol sales and demand means that there may also be a reduction in demand for malting barley.

Dairygold and Glanbia have committed to purchasing all contracted tonnage of malting barley this season.

However, Boortmalt – which was set to purchase 185,000t of green malting barley – told its suppliers on April 21 that it would be reducing the tonnage which it takes in this harvest.

However, suppliers have not been informed how much that cut will be and are hoping that it might not be as big as originally thought.

Malting barley price on the continent has held well. Since the beginning of April the Free-On-Board (FOB) Creil price for Planet malting barley has varied in price (taken in each Wednesday to average a harvest price for Boortmalt suppliers) from €167/t to €180/t and has stayed nearer the higher end of the scale in recent weeks. Last week the price was at €178/t.

Drinks Ireland comment

Patricia Callan, director of Drinks Ireland, said: “There has been a perception that people are drinking more as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions, but these figures clearly show that this is not the case, with overall sales down by just under 36%.

With pubs, restaurants and hotels closed and Government restrictions in place, there’s been not only a fall in the amount of alcohol consumed, but changes in the way people drink.

“Many people have taken part in a virtual drink with family or friends, but we’re also seeing an array of online wine and drink tastings, and cocktail making events. People are also enjoying a drink in the garden in the sun, or with dinner at home after work, allowing for a little bit of normality at this time.

“It’s important that people maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle at this time, and this includes not drinking to excess. For anyone looking for more information about alcohol consumption during the Covid-19 crisis or for information about low-risk consumption guidelines, we’d urge them to visit Drink Aware.”