Utah alcohol sales double since 2002

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It’s bottoms up for Utah.

Even adjusted for inflation, alcohol sales in Utah have nearly doubled, and per capita spending on alcohol has grown by more than 50 percent since 2002, according to a study by the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy.

A Sept. 14 Salt Lake Tribune analysis of Utah’s 125 liquor outlets showed there was a 153 percent increase in liquor sales since 2002 at Utah’s retail liquor outlets, which monetarily translates from $156.2 million in sales to $396 million.

Experts say changing demographics and the growing tourism industry are possible reasons for the increase.

Alcohol sales in Utah are spiking through the roof. (Universe Photo)
Alcohol sales in Utah have grown by more than 50 percent in the last 13 years. Increases in population and tourism could result in increased alcohol sales. (Bryan Pearson)

Utah’s population grew nearly twice as fast as the rest of the country over the last year, according to a new report from the U.S. Census, and the state is on track to nearly double its current population of 2.9 million people by the year 2050.

With the influx of new people moving into the state comes different stances on alcohol consumption.

“One of the things that is sort of intuitive is that visitors come here for convention and leisure travel and they’re a different demographic than the majority of folks that live in the state,” said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, relayed by communications manager J Kate Scott. Beck also noted that “outside of Utah, drinking is not a moral issue. It’s a social issue.”

Tourism in Utah is reaching record highs. Utah is expecting to set a record in hotel room revenue this year, surpassing 2002 revenue totals when Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics, according to the Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

“There is no single profile for who visits Utah. The reasons people visit, and the experiences they have here, are as diverse as Utah’s landscape,” said Jay Kinghorn, director of communications for the Utah Office of Tourism. “Because people have such varied reasons for visiting, it is difficult to speculate on how much tourism affects Utah’s alcohol consumption.”

Tourists and new residents in Utah have to familiarize themselves with Utah’s liquor laws, which are the strictest in the nation according to a TIME evaluation. Some of those laws include:

  • All packaged liquor, wine and full-strength beer must be purchased from a Utah state liquor store or a package agency. You cannot bring liquor into the state and must conform to the selection that Utah supplies.
  • State law prohibits consuming liquor in a public building, park, stadium or on a public bus.
  • Alcohol beverage service in a licensed restaurant requires that you order food with your drink, that your beverage be delivered to your table or counter by your server and that you consume your drink at or near the table or counter.

“The state continues to struggle with the misperception nationally that its arcane liquor laws make it impossible to get a drink, said Beck, through the company’s communications director. “There are still some quirks that help perpetuate that reputation.”

Even though the average Utahn drinks seven more glasses of wine, 19 more shots of hard liquor and two more pints of heavy beer than they did in 2002, according to the study by the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy, Utah has the lowest rate of consumption in the nation.

The Utah rate of alcohol consumption is nearly a gallon per person lower than the national average and less than half of what it is in the neighboring states of Nevada, Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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