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Even though pubs were shut, Aussies drank 25 per cent more during pandemic

Australians hit the bottle with gusto while at home during the pandemic, drinking an unprecedented amount of alcohol and bumping retail alcohol sales to record levels.

Feb 12, 2021, updated Feb 12, 2021
The state government will not abolish public drunkenness laws. Photo: ABC

The state government will not abolish public drunkenness laws. Photo: ABC

Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows supermarkets, take-away shops, hardware stores and the like turned over a record $15.6 billion in alcohol sales in 2020.

That’s an increase of 26.7 per cent or $3.3 billion more than in 2019.

In comparison, alcohol sales grew by $195 million between 2018 and 2019 – about six per cent of the increase recorded between 2019 and 2020.

Predatory marketing targeting Australians during a time of heightened anxiety is to blame, chief executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education Caterina Giorgi says.

“During COVID-19 we’ve seen alcohol retailers and online delivery companies engage in prolific marketing that promotes using alcohol as a way to cope during the pandemic,” she said.

“The increase seen by alcohol retailers suggests it’s working for them.”

Alcohol sales spiked in all months impacted by the pandemic, but May saw the biggest increase with turnover almost one and half times 2019 levels.

In December alone alcohol retail stores, 65 per cent of which are owned by supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths, turned over almost $2 billion, making it the highest-earning month in Australian history.

The whopping increase is great for retailers, Giorgi says, but pretty terrible for Australian health outcomes.

“Companies should not be able to use a global health crisis as an opportunity to sell more alcoholic products at the detriment of the health of Australians,” she said.

“We’ve heard from family violence services that they’ve seen an increase in alcohol involvement in family violence and also heard from alcohol and other drug treatment services that they’re seeing more people reach out for help with alcohol.”

With the retail alcohol sector’s marketing largely unregulated, oversight is desperately needed, she says.

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Giorgi is also calling for limits on late night and rapid online alcohol delivery, and for a boost in funding for alcohol and drug services to reduce alcohol-fuelled harm.

RETAIL ALCOHOL FIGURES FOR 2020:

* Supermarkets, take-away shops, hardware stores and the like turned over a record $15.6 billion in alcohol sales in 2020.

* Sales were up 26.7 per cent or $3.3 billion on 2019 levels.

* The year-on-year increase was almost 17 times the year before, when alcohol sales grew by $195 million.

* Alcohol sales spiked in all months impacted by the pandemic, but May saw the biggest increase with turnover almost one and half times 2019 levels.

* In December alone alcohol retail stores turned over almost $2 billion, making it the highest-earning month in Australian history.

* Some 80 per cent of alcohol sold in Australia was already takeaway and delivery before the pandemic.

SOURCE: ABS data and Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education

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