Reopening installment #1: A little bragging is in order

This is my letter to the editor of the Washington Post about their unquestioning use of market research data on alcohol sales. The reporter used data from A.C. Nielsen to imply that we’re all drinking way too much. Nielsen is now adding caveats on the limits of their data to press releases and summaries of their reports. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that I helped push them in that direction.

For years now I’ve been trying to explain that we just don’t have good data on sales of wine and other alcohol.  And I’ve been complaining that the companies that compile, analyze, and disseminate these data issue grand proclamations that don’t acknowledge that they don’t cover the entire market.  This hasn’t stopped the companies from leaping to less-than-well-founded conclusions, particularly about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on alcohol sales.

Well, look what I just saw in a piece about a report issued by A.C. Nielsen, the market research company, with assistance from Wines Vines Analytics and Sovos Ship Compliant, a firm that assists wineries with online sales and shipments:

“We continue to remind our readers that we are only measuring some specific off premise** channels, and that the impact of the health crisis on sales is uneven across companies in the alcohol industry.” 

[**Off premise means alcohol purchased in stores or online for consumption at home or in places other than where it was purchased.  It’s the opposite of on premise, which refers to bars and restaurants.]

I’m going to toot my own horn here and say that I had something to do with this statement.  I won’t flatter myself and imagine that Nielsen managers read my blog posts.  But I wrote something they likely did read – a letter to the editor of the Washington Post, taking the newspaper to task for using Nielsen’s incomplete data to imply that we’re all drinking ourselves into a physical and mental health crisis.  It was published on May 15, 2020, and probably made the company’s daily media clips.

Good for Nielsen.  Although I have to point out that when they say that they “continue” to remind readers of some of their data limitations, they weren’t doing it as of May 6, 2020, when I put up my last post on the subject.  Let’s hope they’ll “continue” to do it in the future.

I’m also encouraged by another sentence later in the report that I haven’t seen from Nielsen before.  Discussing the percentage increase in sales of spirits, Nielsen notes that sales of premium spirits were up substantially, particularly tequila.  It makes sense to me, since if I’m going to go to the trouble of making margaritas at home, I can use the good stuff and it’ll still cost less than a pitcher of so-so margaritas out.  Unlike in past reports, Nielsen acknowledges this may be happening, saying, “Remember again that all those consumers who might have ordered a cocktail in a restaurant or bar are able to save a significant amount of money when they buy a bottle of the same liquor or drink components, at a store or online, and have that drink at home.”

We still don’t know what’s actually happening with alcohol sales.  But at least there’s a little less authority and more caveats in reporting the numbers these companies collect.  That at least helps us decide just how much weight we should give the data.

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1 Response to Reopening installment #1: A little bragging is in order

  1. Pingback: Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Pandemic Pivots

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