With bars, restaurants, and outdoor events in full swing and product prices on the rise, beverage alcohol retail sales have slowed from the back-to-back booming years of 2020-2021. Overall sales are still up significantly from pre-Covid, but retailers face new challenges heading into a summer full of uncertainties. Stores are stocking up on spirits-based RTDs, Tequila, rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, and 3-liter boxed wines, which are all seeing strong growth. “Consumers are looking for value when they shop,” says Mark O’Callaghan, owner of Exit 9 Wine & Liquor Warehouse in Clifton Park, New York. “They are very price conscious. Our average ring is up, but our shopping count is down. We are not recession proof.”
There are some exceptions to pricing pressure. A burning desire for high-end Tequila has the segment growing at breakneck speed. At Exit 9, Tequila is up 84% in dollar sales so far this year over 2021 and the category typically accelerates in the summer. Top-sellers include Casamigos Blanco ($46.65 ), Clase Azul Reposado ($171.09 a 750-ml.), and Patrón Silver ($50.16 a 750-ml).
At Wilbur’s Total Beverage in Fort Collins, Colorado, high-end Tequila sales are up 20% this year. “If you can get it, the top-sellers are Casamigos Blanco ($50 a 750-ml.), Don Julio 1942 Anejo ($175 a 750-ml.) and Cincoro Blanco ($70),” says manager Mat Dinsmore.
Dinsmore notes supply is still not meeting demand, and inflation is biting hard. “The supply chain hasn’t improved,” he says. “In some ways it’s better than last year, but the pricing has gone to hell. We are watching inflationary pressures on everything. I’m getting a hundred price increases a week. Consumers are more price conscious.”
While overall sales are down about 10% at Exit 9 so far this year, spirits-based RTDs and hard seltzers sales are up 31%. “I have never seen a category explode like this,” O’Callaghan says. “We probably have doubled the SKUs we offer because of the new products coming out every day, but I can’t carry them all. Last year there were RTD supply issues due to shortage of cans but there doesn’t look like we have many supply issues currently.”
Offerings with strong brand recognition at Exit 9 are among the best sellers, including Jose Cuervo Classic Margarita ($15.01 a 1.75-liter), 1800 Ultimate Margarita ($23.63 a 1.75-liter), Crown Royal ($14.02 a four-pack of 12-ounce cans), Jack Daniel’s ($13.89 a four-pack of 355-ml. cans), Absolut ($13.01 a four-pack of 355-ml. cans), Bacardi ($13.97 a four-pack of 355-ml. cans), and Malibu ($12.10 a four-pack of 355-ml. cans). “They are all flying,” O’Callaghan says. “We have a 2,000-case display of High Noon ($9.95 a four-pack of 355-ml. cans) in our store, and we sold more than 10% of it—close to 300 cases—over Memorial Day weekend.”
Spirits-based RTDs are also hot at Wilbur’s. Locally produced Coyote Gold Margarita Cocktail ($23 a 1.75 liter) is popular. “There is a new RTD every day,” Dinsmore says. “You can’t take them all.”
In other action, rosé wine and three-liter box wine sales are expected to remain steady this summer. Exit 9’s top-selling French rosé wines include Côté Mas Rosé Aurore Sud De France Rosé ($9.95 a liter) and Whispering Angel Rosé ($22.82 a 750-ml.). “Rosés might be flat to down, but it’s still a big part of the business,” O’Collaghan says.
Rosé wines are also popular at Wilbur’s, but sales have leveled off. “We sell mostly French rosés from Loire Valley and Languedoc,” Dinsmore says, adding top-sellers include Château d’Esclans The Palm Rosé By Whispering Angel ($19 a 750ml.), French Pool Toy Dry Rosé ($15 a 750-ml.), and The OBC Wine Project Rosé With Bubbles ($8 a 375-ml. can).
Low-calorie wines are also starting to gain traction. Leading brands at Exit 9 include Cupcake Light Hearted Pinot Noir ($9.95 a 750-ml.), FitVine Pinot Grigio ($17.91 a 750-ml.), and Kim Crawford Illuminate Sauvignon Blanc ($16.26 a 750-ml.).
At Wilbur’s, gin is gaining ground. “Empress 1908 Indigo Gin ($40 a 750-ml.), Tanqueray ($28), and Hendrick’s ($33) are doing well, but there are still supply chain issues,” Dinsmore notes.
Retailers may face many uncertainties this summer, but Dinsmore says one thing is certain: “People are going to be drinking.”