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Has Covid-19 pushed Pune tipplers off beer? A look at the numbers

Sales data for various liquor segments -- country-liquor, hard liquor (IMFL), beer and wine -- could serve as an indicator of the social and economic situation in a society.

Written by Atikh Rashid | Pune | Updated: December 16, 2020 3:44:00 pm
As per excise officials, beer consumers seem to have shifted to Indian Made Foreign Liquor (cheaper rum/whisky) brands.

Year-over-year comparisons of liquor sales show Puneites have consumed much less beer this year although the liquor sale in the district has hurtled back to normal in the last two months. It also shows that consumption of country-liquor was badly hit in the months after large-scale flight of migrant labourers in the first few months of COVID-19 lockdown and is slowly returning to the average threshold in recent months.

Sales data for various liquor segments — country-liquor, hard liquor (Indian made foreign liquor), beer and wine — could serve as an indicator of the social and economic situation in a society.

Sales data obtained from the State Excise Department, which controls sale of liquor, shows that, in Pune district, though the sale of liquor has slowly been getting back to average in recent months, beer continues to under perform with its sales remaining 20 per cent lower in November 2020 compared to the same month previous year. Officials say this could be due to the fear that consumption of chilled beer might cause throat problems or cold, something that people are wary of during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In the April-November period, Pune residents have consumed 51 per cent less beer (17.07 lakh litres) compared to the same period last year (34.59 lakh litres).

Although IMFL segment is catching up with pre-Covid sales, sale of beer continues to struggle, with November sales remaining 20 per cent lower than the same month last year

“People seem to be worried that consumption of cold beer may cause trouble related to throat or cold, something that is associated with COVID-19 symptom. This means that this lot may have turned to cheaper brands of rum or whisky in the IMFL segment,” said Superintendent of State Excise, Pune.

Ajay Deshmukh, president, Pune District Wine Merchants’ Association, adds that in addition to fear of catching cold, the absence of the student population in the city may have contributed to a dip in beer sales.

“Beer remains a drink of choice for beginners – college students who start consuming alcohol in their early 20s. This lot hasn’t returned to the city as most colleges remain shut. Also, beer is an expensive drink when compared to other hard liquor options. In these hard times, people may have dumped it in favour of other options that give a high in a low spend,” said Deshmukh.

‘Hard liquor’ consumption back to normal

As per excise officials, beer consumers seem to have shifted to Indian Made Foreign Liquor (cheaper rum/whisky) brands, thus causing a faster recovery of this section than country liquor, wine and beer. In May, when the liquor stores reopened in the state, IMFL (India made foreign liquor) segment, which includes rum, whisky, scotch manufactured in India, recorded a sale of 25.61 lakh litres which was only nine per cent lower than sale recorded in May 2019.

Sale of beer and country liquor, however, showed much sharper dip in May 2020 with 50 per cent ( 58.35 lakh litre in May 2019 and 28.96 lakh litres in May 2020) dip in beer sales and 27 per cent ( 24.26 lakh litres in May 2019 and 17.59 lakh litres in May 2020) dip in the sale of country liquor.

Since then, liquor sales have shown consistent improvement, reaching the last-year threshold in November. In November 2020 (30.68 lakh litres), foreign liquor (IMFL) sales surpassed the November 2019 sales figure (30.68 lakh litres) by one per cent. Country liquor sales for November 2020 (25.56 lakh litres) were four per cent higher than those recorded in November 2019 (24.57 lakh litres).

“The liquor sale is slowly returning to normal. In October-November, we have seen considerable improvement with liquor consumption returning to last year’s average. We are coping that by January-February, the liquor business will be back to pre-COVID normal,” Zagade said, requesting the bar owners to ensure that Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) about sanitation and social distancing are followed at the establishments.

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