Beer in the Time of Corona

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread earlier this year, it was falsely reported that Corona beer sales were hit as people associated the brand with the deadly disease.

While that has been debunked, Corona did become the unfortunate punchline of jokes and memes because of its name. Bars around the world even tried to cash in by offering distasteful coronavirus-themed promotions on Corona beer, with some of them suffering backlash for their insensitivity.

What were the European F&B and consumer sentiments around Corona in Europe in the past few months though? We dived into our CPG data* to find out.

Looking back at 2019, Corona enjoyed stunning growth in year-on-year sales, with a sharper spike in summer compared to all other beer brands in our data set. In early 2020, Corona was still seeing healthy growth in sales before going into freefall following the mandated closure of the F&B sector. 

As online searches for terms like “coronavirus beer” surged in February, Corona’s shares also tumbled. While Corona’s sales did decline in March, so did all other beer brands. We did not see Corona being more negatively impacted than others. In fact, Nielsen released sales data in late March showing a surge in sales for Corona at retail stores. 

While these are extremely tough times that have battered the hospitality industry as well as brewers like ABInBev, we believe consumer sentiment around popular brands like Corona hasn’t shifted – which should stand them in good stead for better times to come.

About our data:
Suburbia partners with companies in the payments and retail industries to create data sets that track anonymized consumer purchases across Europe, delivering a daily view into some of the world’s biggest consumer brands. For insights on consumer packaged goods (CPG) trends, Suburbia’s data set covers sales in over 14,000 on-trade channels across six countries in Europe.

4 Ways COVID-19 Is Changing How We Eat

  • Junk food drives F&B sales
  • Drinks category hit hardest

With the entire hospitality industry in Europe reeling from the coronavirus shutdown, delivery and takeout were supposed to provide a much-needed lifeline for F&B businesses. Indeed, our CPG data* shows that prepared meals now account for a lion’s share of F&B sales. 

But how else is the current situation affecting consumer habits and behavior when it comes to food and drinks? What are the implications for merchants and industries? This is what Suburbia’s CPG data* reveals: 

  1. Drinks sales have fallen from 43% to 2% of revenue in the Netherlands

These days, customers are much less likely to order beers with their meals or a coffee to go. Before government-mandated store closures in the Netherlands, beer had a 39% share of total F&B sales in our panel but that has plunged to just 1%. 

Overall, drinks sales in the country have fallen from 43% to 2% of revenue. Meanwhile, in Germany, coffee used to drive a quarter of sales but since the lockdown, it now contributes only 2% to total revenue. 

It’s not that people are drinking less – in fact, reports have shown that sales of booze are spiking worldwide and packaged coffee sales are booming. Understandably, consumers may not want to pay the restaurant markup on drinks when they can purchase these at retail – but F&B merchants often depend on the wider profit margins on beverages.

So if you really want to help out the struggling restaurants in your neighborhood – include some drinks in your next order.

2. Everyday is Sunday: People aren’t differentiating weekends and weekdays

Universally, Saturday is the busiest day of the week for restaurants, accounting for nearly a quarter of total weekly sales at a typical merchant and rising by a few percentage points compared to Friday. 

But now, sales actually sink on weekends, with a steep plunge of up to -23% in Germany. In the Netherlands, merchants have fared somewhat better, with weekend dips remaining in single digits so far.

It seems current lockdowns have all but obliterated weekend activity.

3. We’re snacking our way through the lockdown

These strange, unsettling times must be making people seek comfort in snacks and candy, which have become a huge driver of F&B sales. This is particularly so in Suburbia’s home country of the Netherlands.

Dutch merchants are seeing -46% lower sales for all F&B categories, including prepared meals, for the week ending March 31 vs. the same week the previous year. 

In contrast, weekly sales for snacks and candy are up a whopping 152%!

Good news for snack bars – but perhaps not for salad bars.

4. Germans are chowing down on burgers while Dutch diners opt for cheap and healthy options 

We looked at the top-selling products across Germany and the Netherlands and found that burgers reign supreme in the home of the original hamburger. They account for nearly half of all F&B sales in Germany! Customers seem to prefer meaty meals with sausages, schnitzels and steaks also cracking the top 10.

As highlighted earlier, the Dutch are snacking a lot more but they seem to be compensating for this by generally choosing more nutritious meals over fast food. In fact, Japanese sushi is one of the most popular foods ordered in the Netherlands. 

What is also interesting is about a quarter of menu items ordered contain words like “promotion” or “deal”. It suggests Dutch merchants should consider bundling different items together into a “value meal” to draw more customers and increase sales.

About our data:
Suburbia partners with companies in the payments and retail industries to create data sets that track anonymized consumer purchases across Europe, delivering a daily view into some of the world’s biggest consumer brands. For insights on consumer packaged goods (CPG) trends, Suburbia’s data set covers sales in over 14,000 on-trade channels across six countries in Europe.