Australian alcohol consumption hits 50-year low

20 May, 2020 by Andy Young

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and Roy Morgan have released figures highlighting the long- and short-term drinking habits of Australians, and both show that consumption is continuing to decrease.

The long-term figures from ABS show that Australians are drinking less alcohol overall than any time in the previous 50 years. The ABS data looks at the quantity of pure alcohol available from beer, wine, spirits, ready to drink (RTD) beverages and cider, plus estimates of the total volume of beer and wine available for consumption.

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“Across all alcoholic beverages, there were 9.7 litres of pure alcohol available for consumption in 2013-14 for every person in Australia aged 15 years and over,” said Louise Gates from the ABS. “This is the lowest level since the early 1960’s.”

“The pattern of alcohol consumption has changed significantly over this period.

“Fifty years ago, beer made up three quarters of all alcohol consumed, but now makes up under half at 41 per cent.

“Wine’s share has increased over the same period from 12 per cent to 38 per cent.”

Australians currently consume more white wine than red wine – 270 million litres of white wine compared with 190 million litres of red wine in 2013-14, while full strength beer remains the most popular type of beer, accounting for around three quarters of all beer in 2013-14.

“Over the past decade we have seen the popularity of mid strength beer grow at the expense of low strength beer,” said Ms Gates. “Mid strength beer now makes up 19 per cent of all beer consumed in Australia, while low strength beer accounts for five per cent.

“Spirits including RTD increased from 13 per cent of all pure alcohol consumed in 1963-64 to 19 per cent in 2013-14. Cider accounted for a small but growing proportion, at two per cent in 2013-14.”

Andrew Wilsmore, Chief Executive Officer of Alcohol Beverages Australia, welcomed the findings, saying it shows the work of organisations like DrinkWise is getting through to Australians.

“Beer, wine and spirit producers are reporting volume declines of between 10 and 35 per cent, which has clearly translated into Australians drinking less overall, and the sad reality of close to half a million jobs being lost in hospitality,” Wilsmore said.

“The ABS data shows that 28.9 per cent of Australians are largely abstaining or not consuming alcohol; 47.1 per cent are drinking the same; and 9.5 per cent are drinking less. Only 14.4 per cent of Australians reported that their drinking had increased.

“Despite the headlines generated from a single-day of early panic buying, Australians have less occasions to drink. The majority of Australians have not replaced the beverage they previously enjoyed with a restaurant meal, the after-work drink, the late-night cocktail with increased at-home drinking occasions.

“DrinkWise has and continues to educate the community about the need to moderate when enjoying a drink, particularly in the current environment as Australians self-isolate.

“Reports from recently re-opened hospitality venues are all positive for Australia’s drinking culture, with venues reporting customers as well behaved and enjoying a drink as part of the pleasure of re-socialising with family, friend and colleagues.”

New data from Roy Morgan’s Alcohol Consumption Report shows the proportion of Australians who drink alcohol continues to decline, despite some organisations latching on to one single day of panic buying during the Coronavirus lockdown, as proof that Australians are drinking at harmful levels.

A total of 66.3 per cent (13,073,000) of Australians aged 18+ in the year to March 2020 consume alcohol in an average four-week period, down from 67.5 per cent (13,102,000) twelve months ago.

Spirits was the only alcohol category whose consumption increased year-on-year rising from 26.3 per cent (5,099,000) to 28.7 per cent (5,671,000).

Wine drinking decreased from 42.8 per cent (8,303,000) to 41.0 per cent (8,096,000). Beer fell from 38.2 per cent (7,409,000) to 37.6 per cent (7,413,000). Cider dropped from 11.4 per cent (2,210,000) to 10.7 per cent (2,114,000). Ready-to-drinks (RTDs) remained unchanged on 10.8 per cent (2,138,000). Liqueurs fell from 6.5 per cent (1,265,000) to 5.8 per cent (1,148,000) and Fortified Wine dropped from 4.9 per cent (960,000) to 4.2 per cent (827,000).

Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine said: “Our data shows a consistent decline in Australians’ alcohol consumption. Looking back to 2006, 73.5 per cent of the adult population were regular drinkers. That has dropped to 66.3 per cent in the 12 months to March 2020, which represents a large number of people who no longer choose to consume alcohol regularly.

“During the early stages of the COVID-19 lockdown, the panic buying of large quantities of alcohol prompted understandable concern from health authorities and saw the introduction of buying limits. However, it’s likely the alcohol bought was simply a substitute for alcohol which people would otherwise have been consumed at venues, or simply stocking up ‘just in case’, rather than an overall increase.”