This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Booze is a booming business in Utah, with people drinking more and spending substantially more better than double since 2002 on wine and liquor.
A Salt Lake Tribune analysis of sales at Utah's retail liquor outlets points to a number of possible factors perhaps most prominently, the state's changing demographics but also a rise in Utah-produced wine and liquor, as well as a flourishing tourism and hospitality industry.
Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at The Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, said a wave of people moving to Utah starting in the 1990s and continuing through 2008 brought an influx of non-Mormons to the state people more likely to consume alcohol.
"We know that, looking at the cultural, linguistic and ethnic composition of the people who come in … that wave of migration from across the country was just so diverse," Perlich said. "You're pulling from a pool of people who are much, much less LDS than the resident population."
At the same time, the percentage of the population over the legal drinking age of 21 years old has grown, meaning there are more Utahns who can drink legally than there were in the early 2000s, she said.
The Tribune analysis of sales at Utah's 125 liquor outlets shows a 153 percent increase in liquor sales since 2002, from $156.2 million to $396 million. Even adjusted for inflation, sales have nearly doubled, and per capita spending on alcohol has grown by more than 50 percent.
In 2002, for example, the average Utahn drank 21 glasses of wine, 61 shots of hard liquor and 2 1/2 pints of heavy beer the full-strength beer sold in liquor stores.
By last year, that consumption had jumped to 28 glasses of wine, just under 80 shots of hard liquor, and 4 1/2 pints of heavy beer. The figure does not capture the beer sold at grocery stores and convenience stores.
That doesn't mean Utahns are paying more for their alcohol. Again, adjusted for inflation, Utahns in 2002 spent $48.57 per gallon of alcohol they bought. In 2015, that figure actually dipped slightly to $46.99 per gallon.
Tourists • One factor driving the increased sales is the state's booming tourism and convention business, said Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake.
"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," he said, noting that "outside of Utah, drinking is not a moral issue. It's a social issue."
Beck said the state is expecting to set a record in hotel- room revenue this year, surpassing for only the second time the year the state hosted the 2002 Olympics, a key bench mark for visitor numbers.
But the state continues to struggle with the misperception nationally that its arcane liquor laws make it impossible to get a drink, Beck says, acknowledging that there are still some quirks that help perpetuate that reputation.
For example, guests can't order a Bloody Mary or mimosa on a Sunday morning before 10 a.m. Guests at a hotel restaurant can't take a glass of wine across the lobby or up to their room. And requiring restaurant patrons to order food the so-called "intent to dine" continues to be a problem.
"That is still a real hurdle for our guests and our visitors in particular," Beck said. "We still have a lot of issues that are why this perception exists and still exists."
The increased consumption also doesn't mean Utahns are drinking themselves into stupors and punishing their livers on a regular basis. Indeed, a 2009 study by the National Institutes of Health found that Utah's rate of consumption was predictably the lowest in the nation, 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.
Nor has there been a spike in reckless behavior that some warn accompany higher alcohol consumption. In 2002, there were 56 fatalities involving drivers under the influence of alcohol, according to Utah Department of Public Safety statistics. Despite the growth in population, the trend has been generally downward, with a total of 23 DUI-related deaths in 2013, according to the most recent data available.
The rate of DUI fatalities has dropped from 30 per 10 billion miles traveled in 2002 to just nine per 10 billion miles traveled in 2013. And the number of drunken-driving arrests has also declined, from 14,491 in 2003 to 10,091 in 2014.
Art Brown, president of the Utah chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Utah's tough alcohol policies have helped keep the numbers down, despite increased consumption.
"When you increase per-capita consumption, the social ills, you're going to have more. But on the other hand, we've worked hard against that. Nobody has sat on their hands," he said. "I think even though we're drinking more, I think some of our prevention work helps with underage- drinking rates going down. And I also think enforcement and engineering on roads and general awareness has helped corral some of those numbers."
Big bucks • The brisk business being done at state-run liquor stores means a significant windfall for Utah's treasury.
In 2014, liquor sales produced a whopping $144.9 million in profit for the state pumping $38.3 million into the school-lunch program and DUI enforcement, generating $18.8 million in sales tax and turning another $87.8 million back to the state.
Compare that to 2002, when the liquor programs generated a total of $57 million $24.5 million in school lunch and sales tax and $32.5 million in other profits.
There has been talk in the halls of the Capitol for years about privatizing operations of the state liquor stores while still having the state control the distribution of alcohol but no lawmaker has had the stomach to propose such legislation, and in backroom discussions such a proposal has met with opposition from representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a powerful force on the hill.
And Gov. Gary Herbert has repeatedly used the revenue pouring into the state and the potential for losing a portion of the river of liquor money to oppose any serious consideration of privatizing the retail end of the booze business.
That doesn't mean the state's management of liquor stores is without problems. The governor's office is currently preparing the second of three requested reports with recommendations aimed at improving management at Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control stores and providing better customer service.
The first focused on providing better training for managers and employees, helping to stock more products that meet consumer demands, and utilizing better methods of tracking customer satisfaction. A second report is expected out soon.
State Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, has blasted DABC for mistreating workers, resulting in dismal morale. She has criticized the agency for not hiring managers, instead spreading them out over multiple stores, and for pitifully low wages paid to the part-time clerks that interact with customers. Their pay recently was increased to $9 an hour.
Mayne has had legislation drafted that would mandate that 13 percent of the revenues from liquor sales in the state go back into operating the DABC rather than dumping the profits back into the state budget.
It would require each store to have a manager and half the employees in each store to be full-time workers and to give the workers a 10 percent raise.
Another bill she is proposing would create a "facilitator" position in the department to act as a sort of ombudsman, helping resolve problems raised by licensees, distributors, employees and customers.
"We need some financial stability, and this is what these two pieces of legislation are," Mayne said. "It's been decades and we have just not had it. … We can't go on like this. We cannot run it the way we're going. If we have one retail [operator], we need to be mature in how we do that."
Breweries • Another recent phenomenon figuring into the increase in sales and consumption is the emergence of breweries, distilleries and wineries selling their own product at state-licensed storefronts.
The law changed in 2008, allowing producers to sell full-strength beer, wine and spirits on-site, and sales have taken off.
In 2010, High West Distillery, for example, sold just under $250,000 of its product directly to consumers. By 2015, sales jumped to $1.7 million. And Epic Brewery sold nearly $2 million at is brewery in downtown Salt Lake City and at its restaurant, The Annex, in Sugar House.
"That was really the entire intent behind the brewery, was to be able to sell directly to consumers, to have the freshest beer possible, have it cold, to have the brewery as a destination for people to tour the brewery and then" buy the product, said Matt Allred, communications director for Epic Brewery.
At any given time, Epic can have as many as three dozen varieties of beer available at the brewery, two to three times what is usually available at state liquor stores. And the brewery can sell later it is open until 11 p.m. and on weekends and holidays, when state stores are closed.
To keep pace with the anticipated demand, DABC is planning to open a new state liquor store in West Valley City in the near future. A search is underway for the best location.
And, as Utah continues to be a draw for convention and tourism business and more diverse workers move to the state, the number of drinking-age residents grows and the percentage of the population that is LDS incrementally dwindles, consumption will likely continue to rise, Perlich said.
"It's just a much different place than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago," she said. firstname.lastname@example.org
Utah liquor sales
2002 • $156.2 million
2003 • $158 million
2004 • $167.3 million
2005 • $180.6 million
2006 • $204.4 million
2007 • $229.6 million
2008 • $256 million
2009 • $267.3 million
2010 • $279.2 million
2011 • $296.7 million
2012 • $322 million
2013 • $346.8 million
2014 • $367.4 million
2015 • $396 million