New data from Roy Morgan’s Alcohol Consumption Report shows the proportion of Australians who drink alcohol was at 68.1 per cent in the 12 months to September 2023, up by 1.8 per cent points since the pre-pandemic period in the 12 months to March 2020 (66.3 per cent).

The number of Australians drinking wine, beer and spirits reached pandemic highs during 2021 as Australians were stuck at home for extended periods during the many lockdowns that different parts of the country experienced. Consumption of all of the ‘big three’ alcoholic beverages has since declined over the last two years as we emerged from pandemic restrictions.

However, consumption of RTDs has continued to increase and in late 2023 is now at a record high of well over one-in-five Australians.

In the year to September 2023 a total of more than 14 million Australians (14,013,000, 68.1 per cent) aged 18+ consumed alcohol in an average four-week period compared to 13,073,000 (66.3 per cent) in the year to March 2020 – an increase of nearly one million Australians and higher than at any point during the pandemic.

The standout alcoholic beverages over the course of the pandemic have been RTDs for which consumption increased from 2,138,000 Australians (10.8 per cent) pre-pandemic and has more than doubled to 4,319,000 (21.0 per cent) in late 2023 – a massive increase of more than two million people.

The most popular alcohol is wine, which has stretched its lead over the last few years with the number of Australians drinking wine increasing from 8,096,000 (41.0 per cent) pre-pandemic to 9,068,000 (44.1 per cent) in the 12 months to September 2023 – an increase of nearly one million people.

The spirits category enjoyed a clear ‘pandemic boost’ of more than one million extra consumers and in the 12 months to December 2021 there were 6,759,000 (33.8 per cent) Australians drinking spirits, however this ‘boost’ has now receded. There are now 5,623,000 (27.3 per cent) Australians drinking spirits, down slightly from 5,671,000 (28.7 per cent) pre-pandemic.

In contrast to wine and RTDs, the major category that hasn’t been able to arrest a long-term decline is the beer category. Although consumption of beer did increase during the early stages of the pandemic this momentum quickly dissipated.

Now under a third of Australians, 6,725,000 (32.7 per cent) consume beer, down significantly from the 7,413,000 (37.6 per cent) who did so in the 12 months to March 2020 just before the pandemic struck and turned the world upside down during much of the past four years.

The fifth most popular category alcohol is cider, which dipped significantly during the pandemic but has since recovered much of this lost ground. During the 12 months to December 2021 only 1,620,000 (8.1 per cent) consumed cider, down by nearly 500,000 compared to pre-pandemic consumption of 2,114,000 (10.7 per cent). Since this low point in 2021 consumption has recovered by over 300,000 to 1,953,000 (9.5 per cent) in late 2023.

Immigrants from India, China, other parts of Asia and the Middle East drive consumption of non-alcoholic beer, wine, cider, spirits and RTDs higher

The latest Roy Morgan data on the drinking habits of Australians shows increasing numbers of Australians are drinking non-alcoholic varieties of beer, wine, cider and spirits – and many of those choosing the non-alcoholic alternative are immigrants from Asian countries including India and China.

The most popular non-alcoholic drink in Australia is non-alcoholic beer, now consumed by over 1.8 million Australians (8.8 per cent of population) ahead of non-alcoholic wine consumed by almost 1.1 million (5.2 per cent).

Non-alcoholic cider is consumed by just over 950,000 Australians (4.6 per cent) while similar numbers drink non-alcoholic pre-mixed spirits/RTDs (860,000) or non-alcoholic spirits/gin/whisky/Bourbon (860,000) – about 4.2 per cent of Australians aged 18+.

Non-alcoholic beer is far more popular with Australians born in India, China or the Middle East compared to locally born Australians and those born in Western countries such as New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland or Europe and North America.

The same trends are even more evident for other non-alcoholic alternatives. Indian-born and Chinese-born Australians are more than twice as likely as locally born Australians to consume non-alcoholic wine, cider, spirits and RTDs.

Men are more likely to drink alcohol than women with beer the drink of choice for men

A look at the overall Australian alcohol market shows that more than seven in 10 (72.5 per cent) adult men consume alcohol in an average four weeks, almost a full 10 per cent higher than the 63.8 per cent of adult women.

Beer is the most popular choice of alcoholic beverage among men with 49.9 per cent of men consuming beer in an average four weeks (cf. only 16.1 per cent of women) whereas wine is more popular among women (46.4 per cent of women, cf. 41.6 per cent of men).

Although wine has the highest consumption incidence of the types of alcoholic beverages, beer is clearly the top in terms of volume (number of glasses). Beer accounts for 39.6 per cent of the glasses of alcoholic beverages consumed, more than wine (31.3 per cent) and spirits (14.0 per cent).

A look at alcohol share of volume by gender shows a significant contrast. Beer comprises more than half (51.6 per cent) of the total volume of alcohol drunk by men more than double the volume of wine (23 per cent) and far ahead of spirits (13 per cent) and RTDs (7.5 per cent).

In contrast, wine is the dominant alcohol for women comprising 47.3 per cent of the share of alcohol volume equal to the next three combined – beer (16.3 per cent), spirits (16.0 per cent), RTDs (11.4 per cent) and cider (3.7 per cent).

The findings in this report are from the Roy Morgan Single Source survey, Australia’s most trusted and comprehensive consumer survey, derived from in-depth interviews with over 60,000 Australians each year.

This article was written by Michele Levine, CEO, Roy Morgan Research, for the 2024 Industry Leaders Forum issue of National Liquor News.

Deborah Jackson

Deb joined Intermedia in 2015 as Editor of National Liquor News and Deputy Editor of The Shout. Since then, she has also worked as the Editor of Beer & Brewer and the New Zealand title, World of Wine....

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