As it marked the beginning of a new year, January indicated that 2021 will likely be a transition year of sorts. Though Covid surges are ebbing, restrictions persist — and likely will through much of the year. 

Some trends that the pandemic ushered in, like soaring growth for ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails and Mexican agave spirits, persisted last month, while new ones, like the growth of non-alcoholic beverages, emerged. These are five key insights from Drizly’s January sales.

High Share Increases for RTD Cocktails, Mezcal, and Dessert/Fortified Wines

January’s fastest-growing categories — RTD cocktails, mezcal, and dessert and fortified wines — are early indicators of top 2021 trends. The success of RTDs is nothing new; the subcategory was one of the clear winners of 2020, particularly in the summer months as consumers looked to safely socialize outdoors with portable, single-serve beverages. However, its January growth suggests longevity. “The strong year-over-year growth of RTDs in Jan. 2021 compared to Jan. 2020 suggests that these canned favorites are here to stay,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights, “not just as a seasonal alternative but an important category for retailers to stock year-round.”

Mezcal’s growth in the first month of 2021 is likely to stick around for the rest of the year. “Piggybacking off the ongoing growth of tequila, mezcal has emerged as the next Mexican spirit gaining share of sales,” says Paquette. Within the wine category, dessert and fortified wines saw high year-over-year share gains in January, driven by increasing share for styles like Port and Sherry. 

The Onset of Dry/Damp January

“Whether you want to call it a dry or damp January, sales this month signaled a clear shift in consumer purchasing behavior,” says Paquette. Non-alcoholic beer, wine, and spirits were the top three fastest-growing subcategories month-over-month, with brands like Heineken, Athletic Brewing Company, Seedlip, Lyre’s, Fre, and Ariel leading non-alcoholic sales.

Sales of lighter, fresher alcoholic subcategories also experienced share gains month-over-month, signaling that consumers were looking for lower-ABV options or drinks perceived to be “healthier” last month. White wine share increased from 21 percent in December to 27 percent in January, while hard seltzer and light lager both gained share within the beer category (which saw share gains as a whole). Within the spirits category, vodka share increased by five percentage points, while whiskey share declined by five percentage points.

Market Insights: Philadelphia

Year-over-year, Philadelphia was the fastest-growing market in January. “In the past year, the number of stores partnering with Drizly has grown six-fold, allowing more customers access to shop online and get delivery from their local retailers,” says Paquette. Pennsylvania state laws allow beer and wine to be delivered by retailers if they self-fulfill orders, and retailers must be mindful of wine-specific regulations such as bottle quantity per order, wine prices, and sales on Sundays. Beer was a top sales driver in Philadelphia in January, with beer comprising the top five subcategories and the top 10 brands in the market last month.

January’s Breakout Brands

Last month’s fastest-growing brands in the wine, beer, and spirits categories saw above-average growth for individual reasons. The high-end tequila brand Cincoro was the fastest-growing liquor brand year-over-year, another sign of both growth and premiumization within the tequila category, while growth of RTD brands High Noon and Cutwater Spirits pointed to the continued importance of RTD cocktails.

Within the beer category, Truly saw high year-over-year growth as it branched out into hard seltzer alternatives. “Though Truly has cemented its position as the No. 2 best-selling hard seltzer brand on Drizly,” says Paquette, “its foray into hard lemonade and hard iced tea over the past year has placed the brand among the fastest-growing beer brands in January 2021.” One of wine’s fastest-growing brands was Unshackled by The Prisoner, which launched just over a year ago and has become popular as a more mainstream option from this popular, high-end wine brand.

Customers Reached for More Beer

Shifting category share indicates that consumers increasingly reached for beer over liquor and wine in January. Month-over-month, beer share increased from 13 percent to 18 percent, while liquor and wine both saw share decreases (from 45 percent to 41 percent for liquor and from 41 percent to 39 percent for wine). 

This is likely due to above-average liquor and wine demand over the holidays, as the categories were popular celebration and gift choices, as well as the shift towards lighter, lower-ABV products. “Beer share gains in January point to consumers reaching for lighter drinks to kick off the new year, driven by hard seltzer and light lager,” says Paquette.