The top U.S. wine distributors maintained their dominant positions in the wholesale market, but one major acquisition did change up this year’s rankings by Wines Vines Analytics. Total direct-to-consumer shipment value was up 27% in August as sales of U.S. wines rose 10% and winery hiring remains robust.
Overall consumer demand for wine remains largely flat as the US and world continue to struggle to put a definitive end to the ongoing pandemic. The few promising trends continue to be premiumization in retail off-premise and winery direct-to-consumer (DtC) shipment value rising even as the volume of wine shipped is on par with last year.
After a brutal 2020 in which restaurants and bars were forced to close and thousands had to permanently, the on-premise sector is slowly coming back to life. On-premise shutdowns compelled consumers and wineries to shift to retail, e-commerce and direct-to-consumer, and the wineries of Sonoma County have been a leader in growth in the channel that now accounts for a greater share of the total wine market.
Total wine consumption continues to decline in a trend that predates the pandemic disruptions. Direct-to-consumer shipments were invaluable in 2020, and while May shipment value came in higher than last year this sector could see profound future changes unrelated to COVID-19.
It took longer and was costlier than expected but the United States appears headed for a turning point in its fight against COVID-19. As the nation and economy begins a general recovery, the wine industry awaits a full return of the on-premise sector, tourism and to see if some of the consumer trends of the pandemic will persist.
As the 2021 growing season begins, California is slipping into drought while still trying to emerge from a pandemic. Demand has been strongest for grapes that supply off-premise brands, but there is optimism on-premise can see something of a recovery this year.
Alternative formats such as cans and boxes continue to perform well as pandemic trends persist into 2021. While off-premise and DtC sales remain strong, the wine business in the Northwest seeks to maintain momentum in a changing landscape.
The wine industry may see a surge of new investment in step with a wider economic recovery later this year. As that recovery begins in earnest, it appears some old trends, such as premiumization, maintained momentum alongside new ones like e-commerce.
While the pain of 2020 is likely to linger through most of 2021 because of ongoing losses in the on-premise sector, the positives of 2020 are expected to stick around too with retail and online sales poised for continued growth.