Liquor Commission sees $10 million boost in sales during pandemic

    BRIEF

    Exterior of the state liquor store in Epsom
    The Liquor Commission reported strong sales during the pandemic. (Dave Cummings | New Hampshire Bulletin)

    New Hampshire liquor profits have stayed strong during the pandemic – so strong that they’ve offset a rise in state Medicaid costs.

    As the 2021 state fiscal year nears a close, officials at the New Hampshire Liquor Commission expect to take in $151.6 million in revenue between July 2020 and June 2021, about $9.8 million more than in fiscal year 2020.

    The extra income amounts to a nearly 7 percent year-to-year increase in revenue, driven by restless pandemic-era residents staying at home and increased traffic from new customers, Commission Chairman Joseph Mollica told state senators Monday morning.

    “Obviously we’re seeing strong real estate sales in the state,” said Mollica. “And those additional folks in the state are driving some of our business.”

    In total, the state took in $19.2 million more in gross sales from one year to the next, Mollica said.

    New Hampshire is one of 18 control states – the state has complete control over the sales of hard alcohol and wine. Proceeds from alcohol sales go toward the state’s Alcohol Abuse Prevention and Treatment Fund and the state’s Medicaid expansion program.

    The numbers reflect changing behavior among residents, including how residents purchase and consume the alcohol they buy.

    Grocery store wine sales, which make up 15% of the commission’s profits, saw a 12.5% increase from the year before. Restaurant sales, which make up about 7% of total profits, saw a 12.3% decrease.

    Part of the increased profits came from curbside sales of alcohol, Mollica added.

    “That’s just cementing and solidifying the fact that folks are buying product at home, they’re making cocktails at home, and they’re enjoying that product in their homes, rather than going out at this point,” Mollica said.

    But the spike in liquor profits coincides with another COVID-era increase: state Medicaid costs.

    After New Hampshire’s “Granite Advantage” Medicaid expansion program experienced greater-than-usual enrollment during COVID-19, the program ran over its expected budget.

    Following statutory requirements set by the Legislature in 2018, the Liquor Commission has authorized an $8.1 million transfer to the health care program – nearly all of the $9.8 million revenue boost.

    Taking into account the Medicaid expenses, as well as a $10.3 million transfer to the Alcohol Abuse Prevention and Treatment Fund, the commission expects to send back $133 million of the $151.6 million to the state’s general fund, roughly the same amount as the year before the pandemic.

    2020 may have been unique, but New Hampshire Liquor Commission officials expect the liquor profits to continue to stay high. The commission projects to rake in about as much in fiscal 2022 as in fiscal 2021.

    The commission plans to add new liquor stores in New London, Claremont, and Littleton in 2021, and more in 2022.