Convenience store wine sales in 2019 were flat, but that’s not necessarily bad news for the wine business
Table wine sales in U.S. convenience stores were flat in 2019, which seems like more bad news for the wine business. That’s because sales had increased 20 percent in dollar terms in 2018, the second year in a row that c-store sales outperformed the overall U.S. market.
In this, convenience stores have been one of the bright spots in the wine business over the past couple of years. Younger wine drinkers aren’t as put off by buying wine in a 7-Eleven as their elders are, and it’s more convenient for them, too — Pampers and wine on the way home from work. It also helps that stores have better selection than years past, and not just wine coolers and big boxes of sweet wine.
So Jeff Lenard, the spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, says not to worry.
“I think the percentage of stores selling wine is the more important stat,” he emailed me this week during our annual discussion about the group’s wine survey numbers. “As we have seen with fresh items in stores, it takes time to grow the offer and raise awareness so that customers can expect to find quality wine in a store. And in many cases, it’s a wine offer that is more curated, so that’s even more difficult for stores to add.”
And Lenard may have a point:
• The number of convenience store selling wine increased some six percent in 2019 to more than 52 percent — a number that may be an all-time high. That’s an amazing statistic, given that wine sales in 7-Eleven, RaceTrac, QuikTrip, Speedway, and the like are illegal in many states, including New York and Pennsylvania.
• Wine sales decreased by one-half of one percent per store, which is a letdown from 2018’s robust growth. But it’s in line with overall wine sales in the U.S., so it shouldn’t be too surprising. In addition, says Lenard, it’s not unusual to see per store sales decrease when more stores offer a product.
• The number of stores selling beer and spirits barely grew, by about one percent each. So wine’s store growth is that much more impressive.
• Given how one parses the c-store numbers, as well as the unreliability of U.S. wine sales numbers in general, it’s possible that convenience store wine once again accounted for as much as 2 percent of all the wine sold in the U.S.
Meanwhile, early reports indicate that c-store sales will increase substantially in 2020 because of the pandemic, as stores picked up sales when restaurants and bars were closed.