Alcohol is (and arguably has always been) a celebrated disinfectant with a full-bodied history rooted in medicine. So when the pandemic hit, it only reinforced alcohol’s versatility, with many local governments relaxing laws to accommodate an increased thirst in 2020. That thirst isn’t just stronger than it was before the pandemic—it’s more complex. How can brands continue quenching it? The Sound has some thoughts on how brands can continue toasting with their core audiences and remain relevant to those who are drinking differently these days.

Alcohol is more essential than toilet paper…

Uninhibited lawmakers made alcohol more accessible in 2020 than ever before. Despite relaxed laws, or perhaps because of them, Americans are making fewer trips outside of their homes to purchase alcohol. Bars and restaurants abruptly announced last call at the start of the pandemic but are now largely allowed to deliver drinks right to people’s doorsteps. Retailers that offer to card people at their front doors rather than at the checkout remain a lifeline and made alcohol 2020’s fastest-growing CPG category in e-commerce. Which is saying a lot.

A glass of cocktail with toilet papers

People also changed how they approached the liquor aisle. Drinkers filled their carts to the brim at brick-and-mortar outlets and grew their small, regular fill-in trips to large, infrequent stockpiling trips. Retailers also experienced an increased demand last year for large pack sizes—boxed wine, beer cases, and spirit handles poured off of the shelf faster than their lighter-weight counterparts.

It’s still always 5 o’clock somewhere…

Many Americans reached for the bottle more in 2020 than they did before the pandemic, but they tended to sip rather than chug. One study across several North American and European countries revealed that drinking frequency rather than drinking volume is what primarily drove people’s increased alcohol consumption.

Since there are only so many days in the weekend (two if you’re counting), people are drinking more on work and school nights than before. Many aren’t even waiting until 5 o’clock, with a third of Americans enjoying a cold one while working from home. Work-from-homers are masters of their own water coolers and can refresh themselves on their own terms, not just with what’s stocked in a communal fridge.

Toasting on the other side of 2020…

There is no doubt that the pandemic upended the role that alcohol plays in people’s lives… leaving many shaken, not stirred. What was once used to celebrate the weekend was now being used as a regular comfort blanket during uncertain times. And with bars and restaurants closed, experimenting with alcohol and sampling new elixirs became as comforting as a cold shower. . Which explains why most Americans are still largely buying alcohol from brands they were pouring long before 2020. That will change soon, however, as people venture out and settle into whatever has become their new routine. What is here to stay is alcohol’s steadier presence in people’s lives.

A man is dinking a bottle of beer

So what can brands do? Well, they can adapt. Brands need to evolve to meet new drinker demands distilled from the mash of 2020. For example, consumers crave convenience more than anything and big brands can help by aging their wine in big(ger) boxes or upping the pack size on their most popular products. Or to better reach people at home, brands can evolve the alcohol e-commerce experience for those who are used to shopping at the store shelf. People are thirstier than ever, and brands need to fill their glasses with the right drink in the right place at the right time or risk being left in 2019.


  1. The effect of COVID-19 on alcohol consumption, and policy responses to prevent harmful alcohol consumption
  2. Drinking Alcohol When Working from Home
  3. It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere
  4. States Relax Alcohol Rules During COVID-19 Pandemic
  5. Rebalancing the ‘COVID-19 effect’ on alcohol sales


taylor tuscherer
Written By:
Taylor Tuscherer

More by this author