Master of Malt unveils changing lockdown drinking trends

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Leading drinks eCommerce platform Master of Malt has identified four key shifts in consumer drinks shopping behaviour since the Covid-19 pandemic started.

In the first of a new-style quarterly trend bulletin update, Master of Malt is sharing insights from the last 12 months which show how UK consumers’ alcohol purchasing patterns changed throughout the pandemic.

The UK adopted its first ‘stay at home’ order on 23 March 2020. While there has been no agreed definition of ‘lockdown’, it was at this point that hospitality and non-essential businesses closed and the gravity of the pandemic was fully felt by many for the first time.

Many businesses felt the effects of the seismic shifts in consumer purchasing habits. Master of Malt is highlighting five significant purchasing patterns seen over the last 12 months, and providing some insight as to whether these trends will continue on into 2021 and beyond.

The normalisation of buying alcohol online

The sudden closure of the on-trade alongside scenes of panic-buying in supermarkets, and the imposition of some shopping limits, rapidly accelerated the normalisation of shopping for alcohol online. It was estimated in 2019 that in the UK eCommerce accounted for around 2% of alcoholic drinks sales, with the channel lagging far behind other FMCG categories in terms of prominence. Customers seemed unwilling to shop for drinks online, or perhaps were unaware it was so easily possible. With grocery curtailed and the on-trade effectively turned off, consumers were forced to consider eCommerce option for perhaps the first time. Now this cultural barrier to shopping has been breached, Master of Malt predicts increases in customer retention and order size across the channel. 

A significant shift in product mix

With an influx of new customers into the online space during late March and April 2020, Master of Malt saw a significant shift in terms of product mix. This should not have been a surprise; the core customer base was predominantly engaged with premium-plus whisky, gin, rum and liqueur products, although ‘discovery’ categories such as mezcal and Calvados were enjoying strong growth. New customers essentially used the site as a proxy for supermarkets, and as such sales immediately skewed towards lower-priced products, and the beer category saw significant growth. While this pattern was not repeated in subsequent lockdowns (shoppers returned to the supermarket with greater confidence, especially as measures like mandatory mask-wearing were introduced), there was an uptick in consumer retention. Looking forward, Master of Malt expects to see a more blended approach from consumers: supermarket and eCommerce meeting differing needs.

Purchasing patterns flatten throughout the week

With offices across the country closed, many experienced a blurring between work and home life. Interestingly, Master of Malt data shows a significant reduction in difference between weekday and weekend purchasing patterns. This difference was first noted in late March 2020, and it continues to be seen one year on. Where purchase volumes were higher midweek prior to the pandemic, an equalisation has occurred. The confines of the workday are no longer rigid; screen time has significantly increased; and with the phenomenon of homeschooling, more work is being carried out at weekends. It’s expected that this trend will continue long-term, as the pandemic has encouraged employers and employees alike to reconsider and in many cases challenge the ‘norms’ around work and home life. 

Virtual celebrations fuelling gifting

With social interactions limited to varying degrees for over a year now, how British society marks life events has been entirely transformed. For better or worse, dial-in birthday drinks, live-streamed weddings, and virtual gatherings have become the new normal. The concept of gifting has also changed. Master of Malt has seen an increase in orders with a gift card message, as sending presents, rather than handing them over in person, has become standard. Similarly, the eCommerce platform has noted an uptick in orders for gift vouchers. Interestingly, despite perhaps having more time to plan, many customers still cut it fine when buying gifts for occasions such as Father’s Day and Christmas, with electronic gift vouchers.

With the departure of our Head of Content Kristiane Sherry, Atom Brands’ Head of Spirits Sam Simmons has taken over some of her duties saying, “these 12 months of data comfort me in these uncomfortable times; it is reassuring to observe that I’m not the only one a) drinking more/better at home, and b) have no idea what day it is. Whether these new habits will lead to a week of Saturday nights or will instead result in Monday night being the new Friday night when our favourite bars and restaurants are able to re-open is yet to be determined, but I for one hope the adventurous spirit of discovery the data shows will remain long into our post-lockdown world.”

As always, we would be delighted to provide any additional comments, insights, or supporting data.

Tags: Covid-19drinking trendslockdownMaster of Maltpandemic
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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