COVID drinking dispute continues

Alcohol Beverages Australia has accused the anti-alcohol lobby group FARE of sensationalising figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the ongoing dispute over COVID-19 drinking habits.

A report released this week by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) suggests that alcohol retail turnover grew 29 per cent to $3.6 billion between 2019 and 2021 and that “more alcohol is flowing into the homes of Australians than ever before”.

FARE, which undertakes marketing campaigns across a number of alcohol-related issues, such as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) after a $25 million grant from the Federal Government, has highlighted the issue of increased alcohol retail sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it has been criticised for failing to take into account that these figures it uses to justify the position that Australians are drinking more are offset by massive declines in the on-premise market.

The organisation said that alcohol companies are making “super profits” and “shamelessly pushing their products into Australian homes”.

Retailers such as Dan Murphy’s owner Endeavour Drinks, for instance, have reported strong momentum following COVID-19 as they benefitted from the move to home consumption, but sales have begun to plateau and hotel revenues also declined considerably for the impacted periods.

Alcohol Beverages Australia has defended the alcohol industry saying FARE was misinterpreting the statistics, without considering wider issues such as on-premise declines, but also if people were drinking less or similar volumes but at a higher price point.

ABA quoted ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods and Australian Institute for Health and Welfare Statistics that suggest that Australians were moderating drinking generally.

Read both media releases below.

Media release from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education

16 February 2022:A new report by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) has confirmed more alcohol is flowing into the homes of Australians than ever before, causing concerns for increased harms to families and communities.

Reviewing newly released Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) retail trade data, the report found a $3.6 billion (29per cent) increase in alcohol retail turnoverin Australiabetween 2019 to 2021.

Total alcohol retail sales for 2021 was $15.9 billion, while December was the highest month on record at $2.1 billion. These figures exceeded alcohol retail turnover for 2020 by more than $300 million.

Alcohol retail sales consistently increased from2019 to 2021in all Australian jurisdictions that report data (New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and Australian Capital Territory).

FARE CEO, Caterina Giorgi, said that at the same time many families in the community are experiencing increased stress from the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol companies are shamelessly pushing their products into Australian homes.

“Far too many Australians are negatively impacted by family violence, mental illness, chronic health conditions, injury and death, and all are made worse because of alcohol,” Ms Giorgi said

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, there are indications more people are needing help because of alcohol harms. At the same time, alcohol companies have used the pandemic as a marketing opportunity.

“Many Australians are doing it tough, while alcohol companies are making super profits.

“Action is needed from Governments to address the predatory marketing practices of alcohol companies. Without it, companies will continue to push more alcohol into homes, increasing the risk of alcohol harms to families and communities.”

The full report can be read at

Media release from Alcohol Beverages Australia

The report released today by FARE once again seeks to sensationalise Australians drinking during covid, by suggesting an increase in retail sales led to higher volume of alcohol sold, rather than that Australians were paying more for their drinks and hospitality was largely closed.

CEO of Alcohol Beverages Australia, Andrew Wilsmore said “Australians didn’t drink more during the pandemic, they merely changed the sales channel with beers, wines and spirits being purchased at the bottle shop, rather than pubs, clubs and restaurants. The closure or limits on hospitality, sport and family gatherings has significantly reduced occasion based drinking, and the reality is that as many as half a million jobs were lost and proud businesses have been forced to close.

“Packaged liquor sales are a value number, rather than a direct indicator of volume. Australians have modified their drinking habits during covid and are choosing to spend a little more on a premium product, or are conscious of their wellbeing which has seen the sales of zero-alcohol products more than double.”

Obviously these two trends would lead to higher value sales of alcohol, but do not necessary equate to more alcohol being consumed.

Mr Wilsmore said “The value of alcohol sales also naturally increases twice a year due to the Government indexing tax rates on beer and spirits to inflation.

“Covid has been a challenging time for many Australians, so it has been pleasing to see the additional Government support into treatment and rehabilitation, and that our own industry commitments to responsible marketing and consumption are taken seriously.

“A number of studies have confirmed that while some Australians did increase their consumption, a larger number of Australians reduced their drinking, particularly younger Australians who were denied the ability to socialise in hospitality and entertainment venues.

ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods COVID-19 monitoring program:


  • More Australians reduced their drinking (27%) than those who have increased (20.2%).
  • The change was more pronounced among those who have reduced their drinking, with 12% of them saying that it decreased by a little, and 15% saying it decreased by a lot.
  • Of those whose drinking increased, just 3.5% said it had increased by a lot and 16.8% saying it increased by a little. For nearly half of those drinking more (45.8%), the increase had only been 1-2 standard drinks in a week.

Australian Institute Health & Welfare

Source: AIHW – Reports:

  • The vast majority (83.2%) of people drink moderately or abstain, a 4.2 percentage improvement from 2001 and the highest on record.
  • Australians are increasingly abstaining from alcohol altogether, with 20.9% of legal age drinkers choosing not to drink in the previous 12 months, a statistically significant increase from 2016 (19.5% abstainers).
  • Younger drinkers (people aged in their 20s) are drinking more responsibly than any generation before, with 62% consuming four standard drinks or less on one occasion in a month in 2019, compared to 49% in 2001.
  • 22% of people in their 20s are avoiding alcohol, compared to 8.9% in 2001.
  • 72% 14–17-year-olds have never had had a drink before turning 18, compared to 44% in 2001.
  • The age of initiation (first drink) has risen from 14.7 years old in 2001 to 16.2 years in 2019,
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