Drinking in America

Gallup just released their annual survey of US drinking patterns. Earlier this summer, NPR published the results of a study on where and how Americans spent money on booze. Let’s put the pieces together.

Who drinks?

Pretty much unchanged from the past, Gallup reports that two-thirds (66%) of Americans drink alcohol, consuming just over 4 drinks a week.

Last year the number was 64%; the same in 1992 and 1982. The earliest measure reported was in 1939 with 58% alcohol drinkers. For decades, then, two thirds say they drink alcohol. With roughly 200 million Americans of legal drinking age, that means there are 132 million drinkers.

Of these alcohol drinkers, a third say they had no drinks in the past 7 days and, according to Gallup, “this leaves roughly 4 in 10 Americans who appear to be regular drinkers.”

Also pretty much unchanged since 1987 when they started asking this question.

What do Americans drink?One out of five (22%) report drinking liquor most often – unchanged since 1991. Wine is the most often choice for 35%, up from 27% in 1992. Beer has been the loser, from 47% most often in 1992 to 39% in 2012.

In a July 2012 article in Ad Age, headlined “Brewing Industry Aims to Revive Brand Beer,” the magazine reported a “new urgency” to improve the reputation of beer in appealing to some millennial drinkers. The article also points out that beer shipments have fallen for three straight years through 2011.

What do we spend on booze and where?

National Public Radio (NPR) in June 2012 published a study on the subject using figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in which they compared spending on booze now versus 1982.

Out of every $100 American consumers spend, about $1 goes to alcohol. It hasn’t changed much in 30 years.

But what has changed is that a higher proportion of the money spent is in bars and restaurants as opposed to stores. Currently 60% of alcohol spending is at the store as compared to 76% in 1982.

In addition, from 1982 to 2011, alcohol prices at bars and restaurants have gone up 79% while prices at stores have gone done 39%. (Adjusted for inflation.)

So, to put the pieces together – Americans are still drinking as much as they always have but somewhat less inclined toward beer. The percentage of consumer spending on alcohol has not changed in 30 years, but prices at stores have gone down.

The price in stores has gone down?

Maybe it’s because of productivity gains, as is usually the case. Or, maybe, it’s the growth in big box stores.

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