March 13, 2007
What We're Drinking

My lunchtime reading today was anything but dry - The Nielsen Company's annual report on alcoholic-beverage sales and trends in grocery stores, drug stores, convenience markets and the like. Officially, it's called "Beverage Alcohol Annual Snapshot," but at 100 pages it's more than a snapshot. Here's a few of its more provocative findings:

- Don't necessarily believe what you hear of the United States becoming a wine-drinking rather than a beer-drinking nation. Though wine sales increased nine percent while beer sales edged up just two percent this past year, beer still accounts for $8.8 billion of the total $17.7 billion alcoholic-beverage market. Wine sales totaled $5.3 billion. Nonetheless, over the past decade the trend among Americans has been to spend more of their income on wine and spirits and less on beer.

- The hottest wine category is...sangria? Who knew? But sales were up 11 percent, compared with eight percent for sake, seven percent for table wine, and four percent for sparkling wine.

- Sales of California wine were up 6.8 percent last year, but the state making the biggest leap in wine sales was North Carolina, up 28 percent. Is moonshine classified as wine over there?

- Pinot noir, pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon and zinfandel all saw double-digit growth in sales the past year, but none came close to touching the 25 percent leap by riesling, and it's about time.

- Four percent of bottled wine now is closed with a screwcap, compared with 2.7 percent a year ago.

- I don't get flavored spirits, and much of the American public also looks to be conflicted about whiskey with vanilla, vodka with peach and the like. Sales of spirits with vanilla, orange, blackberry, apple, raspberry, peppermint and coffee flavors were off sharply. On the other hand, sales of spirits flavored with watermelon, grapefruit, clementine, cherry, grape, pear and lime surged.

- While sales of domestic beers rose just 1.5 percent this past year, sales of imported beers jumped nearly 12 percent, led by substantial increases in the sale of brews from Belgium, Italy, Holland and Mexico.

- Among specialty alcoholic beverages, sales of coolers plunged nearly 13 percent, but sales of ciders were up just as much.

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