cocktailAt this time of year we always like to remember the needy. But the liquor industry?

Alcohol producers and distributors are suffering because we're drinking less of the good stuff and buying more of the cheap stuff during these sobering economic times, the Los Angeles Times reports. The holidays normally generate the biggest sales in spirits, yet the numbers are down.

"If you are a premium spirits supplier, this is tough sledding," Nielsen analyst Nick Lake told the Times.

But it's a good time to be a consumer. The industry has resorted to slashing prices or offering deep-discount coupons for both fancy and down-market brands, the paper said. A normally $27.49 1.75-liter bottle of Smirnoff was selling for $16.99 at a Pavilions supermarket in Southern California. Costco coupons were exchangeable for $10 off Johnnie Walker scotches and $5 off Jack Daniels.

Shopper restraint has hastened the industry's buzz-kill, according to the story. Jennifer Kucera said she was forgoing Grey Goose vodka for the Smirnoff. David West, a CVS pharmacy customer in Seal Beach, Calif., plucked a bottle of $13.99 Finlandia vodka off the shelf, leaving the pricier brands standing as still as nutcracker sentries.

We're supposed to be in recovery mode, so sales of the hard stuff were supposed to accelerate between Thanksgiving and New Year's, as they historically do. Instead, the retailing of distilled spirits continues to dry up, the Times reports.

The industry is simply facing the same consumer skittishness as any other business, Paul Varga, chief executive of Jack Daniels' parent company, Brown-Forman Corp., explained in the story.

Nielsen has yet to produce hard data for the last few weeks, the Times said, but earlier stats do not bode well for the season. Despite the industry's vigorously advertised cost breaks, sales dipped 1.4 percent from last year to $601 million in the four weeks leading up to Nov. 14, the Times reported.

Ivan Menezes, president of Diageo North America, which owns Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Jose Cuervo tequila, sounded in the story like a lonely man at last call: "We have to lower our expectations."

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