New data shows pandemic’s impact on Manitoba’s alcohol sales

The Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation is being told to find opportunities for increased private-sector participation in liquor retail and distribution. (File image of bottles on display in a Liquor Mart.)

Since the first COVID-19 case was announced in March, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MBLL) has reported a significant increase in liquor sales in the last two months.

New data, provided to CTV by MBLL, tracked liquor sales from March 12, 2020, the day the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the province, to May 28.

RETAIL SALES UP, RESTAURANT SALES DOWN

When it comes to liquor sales, a spokesperson for MBLL said sales at Liquor Marts increased 25 per cent between March 12 and May 28, compared to the same time last year.

Rural liquor vendor sales also increased by 30 per cent compared to the same time last year.

However, while liquor retailer sales were up, sales for restaurants and bars were down significantly due to public health orders and physical distancing measures in place since the middle of March.

“Despite the strong liquor sales by retailers throughout the pandemic, the struggles facing Manitoba’s restaurants and bars have tempered the total growth of liquor sales in all channels, which still increased by more than 10 per cent over the same period last year,” the spokesperson said.

MBLL said the total drop for licensees such as restaurants and bars was 14 per cent compared to the same time last year.

POPULAR ITEMS ON SHELVES

The spokesperson said some of the bestselling products at Liquor Marts lately include boxed wine, which is up 39 per cent over last year, and 1.75 litre bottles of spirits, which are up more than 20 per cent.

MBLL said customers are choosing to have their orders delivered, or are buying in bulk or large package sizes to cut down on trips to the store.

The spokesperson said all Liquor Marts have seen “significant increases” in sales over the past 10 weeks, with the busiest in-store week coming in late March.

The spokesperson confirmed BDL, its largest distributor, was the victim of a malware attack, which led to difficulties in processing large orders of popular brands of beer.

“The absence of these brands on some store shelves gave local brewers and other smaller brands an introduction to new customers,” the spokesperson said.

MBLL said delivery has seen the biggest increase in interest compared to last year.

“When the pandemic struck, we acted quickly to boost our inventory offering to more than 1,300 products for delivery,” a spokesperson said. “We reassigned employees who otherwise may have been laid off to process and fulfill orders and we worked with our contracted courier company to add more delivery drivers.”

MBLL said they are constantly looking at the delivery options, adding they will change based on customer demand.