Utah sees another record year in alcohol sales

For illustration, a group dines at a restaurant. Alcohol sales at Utah restaurants, bars and 45 state-controlled liquor stores rose 5 percent last fiscal year, according to an annual report released in January 2018 from Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. | Photo by Rawpixel, iStock / Getty Images Plus, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Alcohol sales in Utah last year approached $428 million to set another record and continue a two-decade trend likely fueled a steady influx of new out-of-state residents and a thriving tourism sector.

This 2016 file photo shows one of Utah’s State Liquor Stores, 900 East, St. George Utah, Jan. 1, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Alcohol sales at Utah restaurants, bars and 45 state-controlled liquor stores rose 5 percent last fiscal year, according to an annual report released this month from Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Sales have increased each year going back to 1996, the first year state data is available. Sales have increased 40 percent just in the last six years.

Demographers say a strong economy has drawn many non-Mormons to the state over the last 25 years for jobs. Combine that with flourishing tourism driven by the state’s ski areas and red-rock national parks and you have more people in Utah who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which instructs members to avoid drinking alcohol.

“It is part of the changing demographics of the state,” said Terry Wood, spokesman for Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. “This demographic is more likely to purchase alcohol.”

Those who drink in Utah appear to be consuming more — the 2.94 average gallons of alcohol consumed per capita was up 3 percent from the year before. It was the 11th consecutive year that the measure increased, agency figures show.

The state was among the lowest in the U.S. in that measure as of 2015, the most up-to-date comparable data available, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Wood noted that the state doesn’t advertise its liquor stores, saying, “We are not encouraging alcohol use or sales, not discouraging it. It’s just there. We provide that service.”

Nearly $179 million from the sales went to the state coffers, state agencies and other alcohol abuse prevention programs. That included $43 million to the state school lunch program; $4 million to state bureau of investigation for liquor enforcement; and $2 million to an underage drinking prevention program. About $23 million in sales taxes went to state, county and city governments.

In this June 30, 2017, file photo, a worker at a state liquor store changes prices on wine, liquor and beer in Salt Lake City. Liquor sales keep climbing each year in Utah, likely fueled by a steady influx of new out-of-state residents drawn for jobs and a thriving tourism sector. | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

The state’s net profit that goes to the state general fund – $106 million – marked only a 2 percent increase from the year before, the lowest in seven years. That can be attributed to an across-the-board increase in operating costs that included a 4-percent raise for liquor store employees, Wood said.

The sales figures don’t include beer that contains less than 4 percent alcohol by volume, which can be purchased at grocery and convenience stores. They cover the state’s fiscal year from July 2016 through June 2017.

Once again, wine was the state’s favorite kind of alcohol with about 3.6 million gallons sold.

A category called “spirits” that includes vodka, whiskey and tequila was second with 3.15 million gallons sold, while high-alcohol beer was third with about 2 million gallons sold.

Malt beverage was the only category in which sales decreased. The 213,000 gallons sold were down from about 250,000 gallons each of the previous two years.

Among wines, Cooks Brut Sparkling Wine was the top seller followed by Vendange Pinot Grigio and Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay.

The top-selling spirit was Barton Vodka, followed by Taaka Vodka and Fireball Cinnamon Whisky.

Icehouse led in beer sales by a wide margin, followed by a Squatters Hop Rising Double IPA and Busch Ice Lager.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press

CORRECTION: The Associated Press reported erroneously the name of a wine company in this story. It is Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s, not Kendall-Jackson Vinter’s. The story has been updated to reflect the correction.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Caveat_Emptor January 31, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Let’s hope the legislature takes these trends into account when they consider changing the beer distribution system when major US brewers stop producing the 3.2% ABW / 4.0% ABV product.
    The current proposal of raising the limit to 4.8% ABW / 6.0% ABV makes a lot of sense, but based on past experience our elected officials will undoubtedly find fault……..

  • thejoshw January 31, 2018 at 10:56 am

    The state needs to get out of the “business”. Let private stores start selling. That way the whole state could benefit from that 400+ million economic boost.

    • Real Life January 31, 2018 at 1:15 pm

      The state will never get out of the “business” because the church runs the state.

    • LocalTourist January 31, 2018 at 2:07 pm

      Totally agree. Many states allow private store sales, and the state still gets their slice of the pie… without taxpayers paying for overhead costs like a handful of minimum wage employees, a warehouse, and store leases.
      The income the state would be receiving would also be higher; I mean, if prices were even a little bit cheaper, instead of “cost plus 86%” the law says, then I’d be buying in-state. As it is, I’ll go to Mesquite. It’s a pleasant drive, and I can save a boatload of cash.

  • PlanetU January 31, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    Just think of the millions they lose because of all of the UTAH license plates at the Mesquite liquor stores! My money is not going to “the church.”

  • Redbud February 1, 2018 at 4:47 am

    I absolutely agree that other businesses should be allowed to sell liquor, and the state needs to step out of the way. Unfortunately, as already stated, the church will never allow this to happen anytime soon. It is my hope that Utah citizens continue to vote with their wallets and get booze out of state. St George has relatively close access to Mesquite, but where do Salt Lake people go if they want out-of-state options??? I guess it’s more complicated for them 🙁

  • Mike P February 1, 2018 at 10:43 am

    There is NO beer in Utah. It’s just one step above water.

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