SALT LAKE CITY — Even though a majority of Utahns adhere to the LDS faith that frowns on alcohol use, liquor sales in the state keep climbing each year, hitting nearly $428 million last year to set another record.
Experts say the two-decade trend is likely fueled by a steady influx of new out-of-state residents and a thriving tourism sector.
Alcohol sales at Utah restaurants, bars and 45 state-controlled liquor stores rose 5 percent last fiscal year, shows an annual report released this month from Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Sales have increased each year going back to 1996, the first year state data is available. Sales have increased 40 percent just in the last six years.
Demographers say a strong economy has drawn many non-Mormons to the state over the last 25 years for jobs. Combine that with flourishing tourism driven by the state's ski areas and red-rock national parks and you have more people in Utah who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which instructs members to avoid drinking alcohol.
"It is part of the changing demographics of the state," said Terry Wood, spokesman for Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. "This demographic is more likely to purchase alcohol."
Those who drink in Utah appear to be consuming more — the 2.94 average gallons of alcohol consumed per capita was up 3 percent from the year before. It was the 11th consecutive year that the measure increased, agency figures show.
The state was among the lowest in the U.S. in that measure as of 2015, the most up-to-date comparable data available, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Wood noted that the state doesn't advertise its liquor stores, saying, "we are not encouraging alcohol use or sales, not discouraging it. It's just there. We provide that service."
Nearly $179 million from the sales went to the state coffers, state agencies and other alcohol abuse prevention programs. That included $43 million to the state school lunch program; $4 million to state bureau of investigation for liquor enforcement; and $2 million to an underage drinking prevention program. About $23 million in sales taxes went to state, county and city governments.
The state's net profit that goes to the state general fund — —$106 million — marked only a 2 percent increase from the year before, the lowest in seven years. That can be attributed to an across-the-board increase in operating costs that included a 4 percent raise for liquor store employees, Wood said.1 comment on this story
The sales figures don't include beer that contains less than 4 percent alcohol by volume, which can be purchased at grocery and convenience stores. They cover the state's fiscal year from July 2016 through June 2017.
Once again, wine was the state's favorite kind of alcohol with about 3.6 million gallons sold.
A category called "spirits" that includes vodka, whiskey and tequila was second with 3.15 million gallons sold, while high-alcohol beer was third with about 2 million gallons sold.
Malt beverage was the only category in which sales decreased. The 213,000 gallons sold were down from about 250,000 gallons each of the previous two years.