News: Quick Takes

State-controlled liquor sales in N.C. grows nearly 17% in April

Heavy drinking among women aged 30 to 80 spiked by 41% during pandemic shutdowns.

(CJ photo by Maya Reagan)
(CJ photo by Maya Reagan)

Liquor sales in North Carolina, which are controlled by the state, grew 16.6% in April.

That’s from the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association, a research group representing control states. 

Seventeen states control the sale of alcohol in some form, including on the wholesale, distribution, and retail levels. The level of control varies among states, though North Carolina controls all three aspects.

Overall, the NABCA says, nine-liter control states spirits case sales grew 17.5% over same period sales last year, led by Alabama with a 19% jump. 

“Control state rolling-12-month-volume growth, 7.9%, improved upon March’s reported 6.6%. Spirits’ volumes are growing 7.4% year-to-date compared to 6.5% a year ago,” NABCA finds. “April’s 17.5% nine-liter spirits growth rate is the second-highest growth rate reported for the control states, surpassed only by September 2020’s reported 17.9%. Control state spirits shelf dollars were up 27.9% during April while trending at 15.4% during the past 12 months.

Alcohol consumption began increasing last year after the government-imposed lockdowns, to the benefit of control states. Liquor stores were deemed essential businesses and remained open.

American adults say they’re drinking 14% more often during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report in the journal JAMA Network Open, as reported by NPR in October.

“The increase in the frequency of drinking for women was more pronounced, up 17% compared to last year. Instances of heavy drinking among women, which for women was defined as four or more drinks within a couple of hours, spiked by 41%. The study’s participants were aged 30 to 80, so the report does not offer insight on the pandemic drinking habits of younger adults. The study took a sample of 1,540 adults and compared their self-reported drinking habits this spring with a year prior.”

The N.C. ABC Commission and its boards run more than 430 stores. The state, according to the 2020 annual report, sold about $1.3 billion worth of spirituous liquor and fortified wine in ABC stores in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020, with total revenue distributions amounting to some $529 million to the state’s General Fund and the cities and counties where alcohol sales are allowed. In the previous fiscal year, retail sales totaled about $980 million.

North Carolina continues to cling to the Prohibition-era control system, plying formerly dry counties and municipalities with a return on sales. Lawmakers have made some progress in reforming the antiquated system, though replacing that “so-called” lost revenue is a consistent point of contention.

The General Assembly this session is working on a slew of bills to modernize the system, including House Bill 669, Distribute Alcohol Without Discrimination, which, officially, is an act to prohibit discrimination and advantage in the distribution of spiritous liquor to local ABC boards, of which there are 171. Some places, such as Wake and Mecklenburg counties, have one board apiece. Brunswick County has nine. Rockingham County, with just more than 90,000 people, has three.

John Trump is managing editor of Carolina Journal and author of “Still & Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State.”