Shoppers Turn to Beer, Cigarettes During COVID-19 Crisis

As people settled in, two categories emerged as c-store priorities, SOI speaker says
Photograph: Shutterstock

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — While retailers may not be surprised, initial data from Nielsen showed consumers are turning to the convenience-store channel for beer and cigarettes as they settle into their homes under coronavirus shelter-in-place orders, said an associate with the New York-based data-collection firm during the newly released NACS State of the Industry (SOI) Virtual Summit.

Tracking February and March data, Caitlyn Battaglia, associate client director for Nielsen, said mass merchants and wholesale clubs saw an initial surge as consumers stockpiled necessities. But then as shelter-in-place orders took effect, people saw c-stores as a more convenient place to restock their pantries with what they viewed as preferred products. In this “restricted living” environment, beer and many subcategories of tobacco saw significant increases.

The quantified dollar difference for premium beer between the initial onset of shelter-in-place orders and when restricted living took place was $78 million for premium beer and $77 million for imported beer.

“As we go deeper into restricted living, you see with beer and packaged beverages, pack size becomes more important as the prepared pantry dwindles and people are looking to convenience for fill-in trips to cover some of the holes that they have,” Battaglia said.

Similarly for premium cigarettes, the dollar difference before and after customers settled into their homes was $97 million. For smokeless products the difference was $35 million and for e-cigarettes it was $31 million, she said.

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