St. Patrick’s Day was the first holiday last year to be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and while it seemed unimaginable then, this year’s Irish celebration faces more of the same: canceled parades and parties and reduced capacities at bars, prompting many to celebrate another holiday at home. 

Retailers could not have predicted how the pandemic would affect St. Patrick’s Day sales—or any other holiday sales, for that matter—in 2020, but this time around, prior year learnings can help stores prepare. To help retailers plan for March 17, 2021, BevAlv Insights examined Drizly data from St. Patrick’s Day in both 2019 and 2020. 

Expect Day-Of Purchasing

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Wednesday this year and if it weren’t for the pandemic, many St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and parades would be taking place on the weekend before or after, leading consumers to make St. Patrick’s Day purchases throughout a lengthy 10-day period. In 2019, for instance, the top sales dates for St. Patrick’s Day sales were Friday the 15th and Saturday the 16th, despite the actual holiday occurring on Sunday the 17th. 

“This was driven by parties and parades in major cities like New York City, Chicago and Boston occurring over the weekend,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. 

But 2020 told a different story. It was right around St. Patrick’s day last year that Covid-19 began to spread throughout the U.S., triggering lockdowns and keeping most consumers at home for the holiday. For retailers in markets with annual parades, holiday sales took a big hit. 

“Usually, it’s the whole weekend. That whole Thursday, Friday, and Saturday is busy; people are preparing for the parade on Sunday,” says Christine Carney-Mcdonough, owner of Al’s Liquors in South Boston, set right in the heart of the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. “St. Patrick’s Day is a good day, but it’s not crazy like the actual parade on Sunday.”

Despite canceled celebrations and stay-at-home orders, St. Patrick’s Day still drove sales on Drizly in 2020, but it was Tuesday the 17th—the actual day of the holiday—that saw the most significant spikes. Sales on St. Patrick’s Day last year were 248 percent higher than the previous four Tuesdays; however, retailers should take that number with a grain of salt. This increased demand was aligned with the timing of Covid-19 restrictions, shelter-in-place orders, and initial stock-up behavior, so St. Patrick’s Day sales may not increase quite as dramatically week-over-week this year. 

That said, pandemic restrictions remain in place, and many cities have already canceled their parades. “We anticipate sales for the holiday will trend more similarly to 2020 than the pre-pandemic years,” says Paquette.

Carney-Mcdonough admits she isn’t quite sure what to expect, noting that weather could be a big factor for retailers like Al’s, located in markets where inclement weather is common in March. “With bars at different capacities, people might actually go to the bars more than having stuff at home, but the weather plays a huge role,” she says. “Typically on Friday night, if it’s a rainy day, anywhere from 10% to 50% more orders than a night that is not raining”

Regardless of the weather report, Paquette suggests that retailers prepare for increased volume with extra staff and drivers on hand. She says they can expect peak delivery times on St. Patrick’s Day to be consistent with typical Wednesdays: between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. 

Stock Up on St. Paddy’s Staples

Like tequila on Cinco de Mayo or Champagne on New Year’s Eve, St. Patrick’s Day has its own beverage staples: Irish whiskey and dry stout. 

In 2020, Irish whiskey was Drizly’s third-best selling liquor subcategory on St. Patrick’s Day (up from fifth in March overall), after vodka and bourbon; it accounted for an eight percent share of liquor sales that day, which was double its total March share. Jameson is traditionally the most popular Irish whiskey for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and in 2020 it was the second-best selling liquor brand on March 17, compared to the third-best in March overall. 

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Drizly’s Best-Selling Irish Whiskey Brands, St. Patrick’s Day 2020

  1. Jameson
  2. Tullamore Dew 
  3. Redbreast
  4. Bushmills
  5. Green Spot 

The popularity of dry stout on St. Patrick’s Day is even more obvious, for while it held the No. 10 spot among beer subcategories in March 2020, it leaped all the way to the No. 3 spot on St. Patrick’s Day, behind light lager (which overtook hard seltzer on St. Patrick’s Day) and hard seltzer. Dry stout accounted for 12 percent share of beer sales on St. Patrick’s Day compared to just two percent share in March overall. 

Unsurprisingly, Guinness led the pack as the top beer brand on St. Patrick’s Day in 2020, compared to the seventh-best in March overall. “Guinness is a staple Irish beer and commonly associated with the holiday, same as Jameson,” says Paquette, explaining that despite pandemic restrictions, customers still turned to the holiday classics—and likely will again in 2021. 

Drizly’s Best-Selling Dry Stout Brands, St. Patrick’s Day 2020

  1. Guinness
  2. Murphy’s 
  3. Breckenridge Brewery 
  4. Harpoon 
  5. Deschutes Brewery 

Yet while Irish whiskey and stout are undeniably the biggest sales drivers on St. Patrick’s Day, there is a third category that retailers should stock up on for the occasion: cream liquor.

In 2020, cream liquor was the best-selling subcategory within the liqueur, cordials, and schnapps category on March 17, holding 33 percent of subcategory share compared to 21 percent in March overall. Bailey’s led the increase and jumped from the No. 5 spot in March overall to Drizly’s third best-selling liqueur brand on St. Patrick’s Day. 

Carney-Mcdonough expects that similar to 2020, customers will be purchasing these St. Patrick’s Day staples, as well as hard ciders (like Magners), in smaller quantities due to smaller gatherings. “Last year with not being able to go to the bars at full capacity, it was a little busier that day than normal, but people weren’t buying a case of Guinness—they were buying an eight-pack or 12-pack of Guinness,” she says.

After more than 40 years of business, Carney-Mcdonough remains hopeful for the future. “We’re all in this together,” she says, “and we’re hoping that in 2022 we’ll be able to have our parade and our day. It’s something to look forward to.”