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Beer, wine, spirits sales up locally amid pandemic

By Ben Rodgers

BROWN COUNTY – Sellers of beer, wine and spirits had much to celebrate in 2020, with increased alcohol sales during the pandemic.

According to the International Wine and Spirits Record Drinks Market Analysis, alcohol sales by volume from March to October increased 1.3 percent, compared to 2019 which only saw a .6 percent increase.

For Chirs Zirbel, owner of Ridgeview Liquor in Ashwaubenon, that number should be a bit higher.

“Just based on talking to my distributors, retail-wise, off-premise (sales) have been much larger than that,” Zirbel said. “I know one of my main distributors in mid-summer was saying with the bars and restaurants being closed or partially shut down, they were delivering more cases out of their warehouse than previously, so most of that was switching over to retail.”

He said the increase has been across the board, with spirits, beer and mixers and garnishes, leading to “easily our best year ever.”

“We’re over 100 percent capacity,” said Zirbel, who has owned Ridgeview since 2003, and moved into a new location about four years ago. “Before the pandemic I thought I had a lot of space, and I was going to need to fill that space.

Ever since the pandemic, I’ve just been packed to the gills with craft beer, but it turns.”

He said Ridgeview has a reputation for obtaining hard-to-find craft beer and liquor, and has a staff that is willing to answer any questions customers may have.

“Month-to-month, since the pandemic started, we’ve been up double digits every month (over the same month the previous month),” Zirbel said. “I had a couple of my reps, they’ll come in and they’ll be wowed how much stuff we’ve gone through. They’ll make comments that the independent stores have done better than the big box stores. Those are the comments I’ve been getting.”

His hot seller right now is bourbon, and since the pandemic started he expanded his selection and increased offerings.

“The bourbon drinker is always looking for something new, so they’re willing to ask questions and get feedback, kind of like the craft beer drinker,” Zirbel said.

At the same time, one of the region’s leading grocery stores also reported an increase in alcohol sales.

Festival Foods Director of Wine and Spirits Jason Stingl said stores in the area reported an increase in wine, beer and spirits.

“Alcohol sales at Festival Foods have been up since March,” Stingl said. “We saw the increase as the bars and restaurants began shutting down in the area and across the state.”

He wouldn’t indicate just how much of an increase in sales Festival is seeing in either percentages or dollar amounts, but said 2020 was “one of the busier years I can remember in the wine and spirits department at Festival Foods.”

“The increase in wine and spirits sales at Festival Foods was seen across all categories, as well as in the mixers and drink garnishes like cherries and olives,” Stingl said. “With people staying home and making their own drinks, we saw a shift in business to those items. We have also seen continued growth in the hard seltzer category and ready-to-drink cocktails.”

He said stores have been able to meet the increased demand staffing-wise and have not had to add any additional employees, except during typically busy times like the Fourth of July and Memorial Day.

Stingl also said Packers game days and the holidays are also busy times for alcohol sales.

“Festival Foods’ wine and spirits sales during the holidays were consistent with the growth in sales we’ve seen throughout the year due to the pandemic,” he said.

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