Jack Daniel's Whiskey Suffering Puzzling Post-COVID Sales Slump

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Some time back, I was talking to my cousin on the phone; we hadn’t spoken in a while, so he was surprised when I told him “I don’t drink anymore.” “Really?” he replied – he has known me for a long, long time. 

“Nope,” I said. “But I don’t drink any less, either.”

This should come as a surprise to no one: When times are hard, for whatever reason, people are going to react to it by doing something that makes them feel a little better. For some, that may be booze; for others, it may be chocolate or indulging in some other vice. No less a great American than Frank Zappa, who (unlike many in the music business) abstained from booze and drugs, explained his smoking cigarettes by observing that “…everyone should have at least one vice.” I have a few, and two of them are good cigars (Parodi cheroots are my favorite) and the occasional snort of good whiskey. I share that last one with a lot of people, and sometimes they’re inclined to have a snort when things are weighing on them.

During the recent COVID-19 panic, then, it shouldn’t be too much of a shock to learn that sales of Jack Daniel’s whiskey went. What’s less obvious is why they’ve slumped since.

Drinkers guzzled whiskey and other spirits during the pandemic, driving banner sales growth for Brown-Forman and other distillers, but the party has ended. Whiskey makers’ revenue in the U.S. fell 2.2% in 2023 to $12.3 billion, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, while revenue was flat overall for makers of spirits.

“The phenomenal sales growth we saw during the pandemic was unprecedented and unpredictable but also unsustainable, and now, the spirits market is recalibrating,” Chris Swonger, the group’s president, said last month.

Consumers are under pressure from rising prices and interest rates hovering near their highest level in years. People have returned to their prepandemic activities and are spending less time at the home bars they stocked during Covid-19 lockdowns. Many people are cutting back on their alcohol consumption for health reasons—or choosing marijuana instead.

Pass on the marijuana. But it’s legal in plenty of places, including here in the Great Land, so I’m sure it’s a factor.

See Related: Sorry, Prohibition Doesn’t Work 

Proposed Legislation in Tennessee Aims to Prohibit Retailers From Selling Cold Beer and Alcohol

The economic argument makes a certain amount of sense. Jack Daniel’s isn’t the cheapest hooch out there, although it’s far from the most expensive; I have a neighbor who has some bottles of Scotch in his cabinet that run $4-500 a bottle. That’s more than I’m willing to pay for a snort but to each his own. But here’s another interesting data point: According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, candy and chocolate sales are booming.

That reminds me of my double cousin (yes, I have double cousins; my Dad’s older brother was married to my Mom’s older sister, so, double cousins) who worked for M&M/Mars for thirty-plus years. He always claimed that his business did best during economic downturns, explaining that when times are hard, people can go to the store, buy a candy bar for a quarter (this was some time ago), and feel a little better about things for a while. And that may be what’s happening here. The Biden administration has been stoking the inflation machine, everything they have done since January of 2021 seems calculated to send the American economy into a tailspin, so not as many people can afford good booze. But a candy bar? Granted, they aren’t a quarter anymore, but they’re still cheaper than a fifth of the good stuff.

There’s another factor, and that’s the government’s handout of trillions of dollars of free money during the pandemic. Combine the mass business closures, the lockdowns, the constant panic-mongering by Democrats and the legacy media (but I repeat myself), and having a little extra cash, and you’re going to see some bumps in booze sales. 

Finally, concerning the Jack Daniel’s folks in particular, there are just a lot of alternatives popping up. From craft beers to small-label distilleries, there are more choices than ever for Americans who enjoy the occasional tipple. That’s an unalloyed good, if you ask me, even if the traditional distilleries are having to play a little catch-up. Even here in Alaska, we’ve had several small breweries popping up making some really good local beers, and in fact, the Denali Brewing people just up the road have recently started turning out a Denali Distilleries whiskey that isn’t at all bad.

So, sadly for Jack Daniel’s, it sure looks like they’ve fallen into a series of unfortunate events since the pandemic: bad times making people opt for cheaper entertainment, and a host of new competition. But if I were a betting man, I’d bet that Jack Daniel’s will pull through.

When times are hard, for whatever reason, people are more likely to have a drink, to eat a donut, or scarf down a candy bar. That is, I think, just how people are wired. As long as it stays within the bounds of moderation, I don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t.

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