The lockdowns early last year were like a cruel reversal of “a guy walks into a bar” jokes for the alcohol industry. Instead of fun scenarios where anything could happen, people were stuck at home, bars were closed, and in the U.S. most consumers had no idea how to buy booze online. Financial results for alcohol companies were constrained, and their supply chains had to be redirected away from bars, sporting events, and concerts to whatever homebound consumers they could reach. There was even a shortage of the aluminum cans needed for some beers as they scrambled to adjust.
Then, something funny did happen: Alcohol producers, held back from the e-commerce revolution in the U.S. by laws that date to the 1930s, suddenly saw online sales skyrocket. Beverage makers started to open up to technology platforms rolled out by startups such as Thirstie Inc. and Speakeasy Co., and consumers began to catch on that they could get alcohol without venturing out of lockdown. On Feb. 2 one of those upstarts, Drizly Inc., agreed to sell itself to Uber Technologies Inc.—the ride-hailing company that’s ventured into food delivery— for $1.1 billion.