Rising alcohol sales coincides with growing Utah population

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Alcohol sales in Utah continued a two-decade climb this year, with the state liquor department reporting record sales of nearly $406 million, according to new numbers released Tuesday.

The annual report from Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control shows total sales for the 2016 budget year were 7.8 percent higher than the previous year.

The numbers include alcohol sales in Utah restaurants, bars and state-controlled liquor stores from July 2015 through June 2016.

It excludes beer that contains less than 4 percent alcohol by volume, which can be purchased at grocery and convenience stores.

DABC figures show those who drink alcohol in the majority-Mormon state appear to be buying more alcohol. The average gallons of alcohol consumed per person was 2.85 this year, up from 2.76 last year, according to the DABC.

State demographers say Utah’s higher alcohol sales dovetail with increased tourism and a growing population, which the U.S. Census Bureau reports is now the fastest rising in the country.

Economists say that population growth is fueled by people moving from other states seeking jobs in Utah’s robust economy. That’s bringing more people to Utah who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which instructs members to avoid drinking alcohol.

For Utah drinkers, wine was the biggest seller, with about 3.5 million gallons sold. More than 3 million gallons of spirits were sold, along with about 1.8 million gallons of high-alcohol beer and 250,000 gallons of flavored malt beverages.

About 84 percent of the money made by Utah’s alcohol business is liquor purchased at 44 state-run liquor stores or privately-run outlets that sell alcohol to the public under state-run contracts. The rest comes from alcohol sold at restaurants and bars.

The record sales, along with state and local sales taxes, generated more than $427 million, but the DABC only keeps about 10 percent of that to run stores and pay employees. About 39 percent goes toward local communities, school lunches and public safety, and the state budget’s general fund for other government operations. The rest, about 51 percent, is spent on alcohol that the state sells.

DABC commission chairman John T. Nielsen noted in the annual report that he believes the department is “significantly underfunded,” something Utah legislators say they’re trying to address.

Several bills in the works for next year would allow the DABC to keep more of the money it makes in order to raise worker pay, keep employees, expand and renovate liquor stores or build new stores.

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