The latest data on Australians’ drinking habits reveals consumption of ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages is at an all-time high, while the number of Australians drinking alcohol has fallen. Roy Morgan’s Alcohol Consumption Report found the disruptive shock of the pandemic is easing.
The proportion of Australians who drink alcohol dropped by 1.8 per cent points to 67.9 per cent in the 12 months to June 2022 as the country emerged from the pandemic and multiple lockdowns in during 2020/21.
Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine said the extensive disruption to people’s day-to-day lives, and the restrictions on travel during the pandemic led to several changes of behaviour. One of the most prominent being the increasing consumption of alcohol.
In the year to June 2022, 13.6 million Australians (67.9 per cent) aged 18+ consumed alcohol in an average four-week period, down from the pandemic high of 13.9 million.
“The ‘shock’ of the pandemic disrupted a longer-term trend of declining alcohol consumption amongst the Australian population, which is now reasserting itself,” said Levine.
RTDs: the disruptor
The standout alcoholic beverage over the last year has been RTDs, which increased from 2.7 million people (13.5 per cent) to 3.3 million (16.7 per cent) – an increase of 3.2 per cent points (680,000 people).
Levine said RTDs kept increasing in popularity despite the ending of lockdowns and almost all pandemic-related restrictions.
In October 2021, Australia’s gin powerhouse Four Pillars released its first RTD using its flagship Rare Dry G&T. It has just released two new flavours for summer 22/23.
At the same time, Endeavour Group announced it was going to double its summer seltzer range. Endeavour Group’s RTD category manager Lance Friedman said seltzers were a bigger RTD sub-category than gin-based premix and was on the way to out ranking rum-based premix drinks.
“A deeper look into the RTDs market shows the increasing popularity of seltzers over the last few years is continuing to drive the increasing consumption of RTDs generally.
“Hard seltzers began to hit the Australian market in significant numbers in 2019, just before the pandemic struck, and these newer alcoholic products are still attracting an increasing array of customers,” Levine said.
In fact, it is hard to not trip over an alcohol company producing a hard seltzer or RTD – Manly Spirits Co latest offering is designed to appeal to the ‘whisky curious’, Four Pines Brewing has its own RTD brand, Brookvale Union, that appeals to drinkers’ nostalgia with hard ginger beers, and Rey Loco mixes it up with tequila seltzers.
Global wine company AVL Wines even branched into RTD cocktails this year with its brand Mr Stubbs.
Spirits specialist for Liquor Loot Tim Laferla said a growing trend is the premiumisation of the RTD.
“Gone are the days where you could only get the cheapest and nastiest pre-mixed spirits in cans. At Liquor Loot, the gin distillers we work with such as Four Pillars, Manly Spirits, Prohibition Liquor Co. and Wolf Lane Distillery lead the way, harnessing the best of both worlds.
“While it might not have been their intention, we see RTDs increasingly hold another use case amongst consumers, portion control.”
For many years the health consciousness sentiment has been a massive driver of multiple trends in the liquor industry (e.g. premiumisation, no & low alcohol). RTDs not only do they offer convenience, but they also offer a very accessible way to both count calories and consumption of alcohol units,” Laferla said.
Wine still holds top spot
“Although the ‘big three’ alcohol types of wine, beer and spirits are all down on a year ago, the consumption of wine and spirits is still well above pre-pandemic levels,” Levine said.
The most popular alcohol is still wine, but the number of Australians drinking wine dropped from 9.2 million (46.3 per cent) to 8.9 million (44.6 per cent) down 1.7 per cent.
Beer has also lost ground from its pandemic highs with 6.6 million (33.3 per cent) now drinking beer, down 2.3 per cent
Spirits rank as the third favourite type of alcohol, with 6 million consumers (30.4 per cent) now drinking spirits, down 2.8 per cent from mid 2021.
“Roy Morgan will be keeping a close eye on the post-pandemic trends we are already seeing in the alcohol market during 2022. The emerging trends suggest consumption of wine and spirits looks set to return to pre-pandemic levels while RTDs, and ‘hard seltzers’ in particular will rise in significance, while beer consumption continues its long-term decline,” said Levine.
The findings come from Roy Morgan's annual Single Source Survey, which interviews more than 60,000 Australians each year.