Alcohol Consumption and Closed Borders – How COVID-19 Restrictions Have Impacted Alcohol Sales and Consumption in Europe
The closing of bars, restaurants and international borders during the COVID-19 pandemic led to significant changes in alcohol availability. This study provides a first systematic overview of the monthly development of alcohol sales in Europe during the pandemic in order to determine the effect of closed borders on the sales and consumption of alcohol.
The study covers 72 months from January 2015 to December 2020 in 14 countries from northern, central and western Europe with excise revenue data for beer, spirits, wine separately and summed, converted into litres of pure alcohol per capita 15+ as a proxy for alcohol sales. March–December 2020 is seen as the pandemic period. The analyses consist of (1) descriptive trends of sales before and during the pandemic, (2) assessment of the pandemic impact on sales by time-series analyses and (3) case studies of countries and a region with substantial cross-border inflow or outflow of alcohol.
The result shows an overall reduction in alcohol sales with 3.6% during the pandemic. Nevertheless, the results differ based on the level of cross-border purchasing flows pre-pandemic, as countries with high cross-border inflow saw an increase in domestic sales as the pandemic hit. Norway, for example, saw a 23% increase in domestic sales during the pandemic period March–December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
The closing of intra-European borders had a significant redistributing effect on alcohol sales. While noting sales increases, cross-border inflow countries generally saw a decrease in total amount of alcohol consumed per capita as not all cross-border purchases were replaced by domestic sales. This has important policy implications as large volumes of cross-border inflow of alcohol can negatively affect excise revenue as well as public health outcomes.
The methodology can be used to further explore the reliance of different purchasing streams in a domestic alcohol market.