Pantry Loading Leads to Strong Beverage Sales in March

Analyst says immediate-consumption channels, including c-stores, saw softer growth
Blurry fridges
Photograph: Shutterstock

NEW YORK — The total U.S. beverage market grew by volume for the sixth consecutive year in 2019, but it is too early to gauge what effect the coronavirus will have on the industry, according to Gary Hemphill, managing director of research at Beverage Marketing Corp., New York.

Hemphill touched on this point and more during Troy, Mich.-based Beverage Industry’s State of the Beverage Industry 2020 webinar, held on April 1.

While it is hard to predict when the rapid spread of COVID-19 will stop, Hemphill said he could make a few observations:

  • March was a strong month for beverage sales, overall due to pantry loading. People are going to grocery stores more and getting more delivered, which has resulted in improved sales of virtually all beverage categories, particularly in the last half of the month.
  • While people are stocking up on supplies, beverage growth in immediate-consumption channels, such as convenience stores, has been soft.
  • The biggest shift has been in how people are purchasing beverages. The strongest performance is in take-home channels, because many states have mandated that restaurant dining rooms and nonessential businesses close. Online sales are also surging as people follow social distancing guidelines.
  • Among refreshment beverages, the strongest growth is projected for value-added water, energy drinks and ready-to-drink coffee. The coronavirus is likely to have a negative impact on these projections, Hemphill said, but it is still too early to tell.  


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