May 30, 2012: Alcohol is hot!

Whether they’re drinking to forget a bad economy, or to celebrate an improving one, Americans are increasingly turning to “spirits,” or hard alcohol. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., overall alcohol sales grew nearly 3 percent last year (and revenues were up 4 percent to $19.9 billion), led by a 5 percent increase in sales of hard liquor (not beer and wine).

In fact, according to market research firm Technomic, hard liquor makes up 6.4 percent of the total alcohol category, up from 6.1 percent in 2010. Vodka is especially hot, with 2011 sales up almost 17 percent.

Donna Hood Crecca, the senior director of the adult beverage resource group at Technomic, told Restaurant Management magazine she attributes the increased sales to an “affordable indulgence mentality.”

Crecca “suggests bars and restaurants look to their drink menus as an important point of differentiation. The three growth spots to emphasize are vodka; low-calorie drinks; and rich, high-quality spirits.” Crecca also underscored the importance of vodka (calling it a “monster category”), which has a 32 percent share of the spirit market.

Restaurant Management also cites the new popularity of “skinny” drinks, the prevalence of which increased over 500 percent from 2010 to 2011 in chain restaurants, according to Technomic’s menu monitor.


Crecca tells Restaurant Management that when consumers are shopping for alcohol in a retail store they’re very value-conscious, but when they’re in a restaurant or bar it depends on “how the bartender is talking about the cocktail or working with them … they’re slightly more willing to spend on alcohol and not be as price-conscious.”

In the non-alcoholic beverage category, Nation’s Restaurant News reports that NPD Group, a market research firm, says the 5 hottest growth categories for beverages are:

  1. Iced/frozen/slushy coffee
  2. Smoothies
  3. Cappuccino/espresso/latte
  4. Iced tea

Frozen/slushy soft drink