What we drink

In 2020, 494 million litres of alcoholic drinks were available for sale in New Zealand (this is a proxy measure of the alcohol we consume):

  • 293 million litres of beer;
  • 113 million litres of wine;
  • 89 million litres of spirits and spirit-based drinks.

Beer comprises 59% of the total volume of alcoholic beverages consumed in NZ, followed by wine (23%) and spirits (18%)

The figure of 494 million litres is a small (0.8%) increase from 2019 (491 million litres).

However, these beverages are often different alcohol strengths (e.g. a beer can be 4% but spirits can be 40%), so the volume of what we drink doesn't tell us how much alcohol we have consumed as a country. Consumption of the 494 million litres equated to 36 million litres of pure alcohol, rose 1.9% from 35.3 million litres in 2019.

In 2020, 8.7 litres of pure alcohol were available for each person aged 15. To put this into perspective, it is the same as every person aged over 18 years consuming two standard drinks per person every day of the year (i.e. 2 cans of beer (330ml, 4% alcohol) or 2 glasses of wine (12.5%; 100ml)). In reality, New Zealand drinkers don't all drink the same amount. We know that approximately 46% of all alcohol sold in New Zealand is consumed in heavy drinking occasions, ie. 8 or more standard drinks for men and 4 or more standard drinks for women. 

In 2020, beer, wine and spirits contributed almost equally to our pure alcohol intake. Beer contributed 12.9 million litres or pure alcohol, wine 11.7 million litres, followed by spirits with 11.3 million litres.

In relation to NZers consumption of pure alcohol (ethanol), we consume an almost equal amount from beer (36%), wine (32.4%) and spirits (31.6%)

New Zealanders are increasingly becoming spirits drinkers - in 2004 spirits contributed 23% of pure alcohol intake, in 2020 spirits contributed 31.6%.

Because spirits are taxed at the highest rate in the excise tax structure (given their high strength) the increase in spirits consumption gave a $119 million windfall in tax revenue to the Government In 2020, Government excise revenue from alcohol was $1.193 billion, up from $1.074 billion in 2019. 

Alcohol available for consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic

Alcohol availability is measured on a quarterly basis. In Aotearoa New Zealand, national lockdown occurred in Quarter 2 (April, May, June). During this time, pubs were closed.

In Quarter 2, the overall amount of pure alcohol available for consumption (per capita) dropped by 9%.

Following lockdown, if New Zealand drinkers had returned to their (normal) heavy drinking patterns for Quarters 3 and 4, overall alcohol availability in 2020 should have been lower than previous years (due to the decline during lockdown). Whilst wine availability increased by 5%, spirits availability reduced by 27% and spirits-based drinks reduced by 23%.

Unfortunately, New Zealanders compensated for earlier declines in consumption by adding that volume to later quarters of 2020, resulting in an overall annual increase of 1.9% in pure alcohol consumption.

  • Quarter 3 (July–Sept 2020) showed pure alcohol availability per capita was 10% higher than in the same quarter in the previous year. Consumption of wine (12% increase), beer (20% increase), spirits (9% increase) and spirits-based drinks (4%) all increased.
  • During Q4 (Oct–Dec 2020), spirits and spirits-based drinks (RTDs) consumption increased substantially by 21% and 16% compared to the same quarter in 2019. Beer availability declined by 9%.

Note that about 15% of spirits consumption is normally unrecorded - being bought from duty free outlets. As duty-free outlets have been closed during the pandemic, consumers would have had to purchase their spirits from local outlets. This may partly explain the substantial increases in spirits availability. What was previously hidden in our figures of national consumption is now in available to be seen.


New Zealand drinking compared to other countries

New Zealanders typically drink a large amount of alcohol in a drinking occasion. Although we drink less (overall) than the Irish and British (and slightly less than Australians), we drink more than Americans, Canadians and South Africans. 

We also need to note that our assessment of per capita consumption in New Zealand, when we are comparing countries, is out of date. This is because our per capita consumption calculations are not based on the alcohol content of products in our current market (the per capita calculations assume products have a lower alcohol strength than they currently do). For this reason, we believe that the per capita consumption estimate in New Zealand (of 8.9 litres per person) is likely to be an under-estimate of the true value.

Be careful of estimates of per capita alcohol consumption in NZ; the estimates are based on the concentration of alcohol in products sold in the 1970-80s

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