Green Beer and Good Cheer: The Logistics of St. Patrick’s Day

Originally published on SupplyChainX

More than 33 million people living in the U.S. claim Irish heritage, and they’re joined by nearly 90 million Americans of non-Irish descent who also participate in St. Patrick’s Day festivities across the nation — a figure that equates to nearly 22 times the population of Ireland itself. That adds up to quite a big St. Patty’s economy: celebrants will spend more than $4.63 billion during the celebrations, or approximately $40 per person.

With this many people coming together, the logistics for parades, food and beverage distribution, and even clothing and retail are monstrously complex — and crucially important.

Eat, Drink…

It will likely comes as no surprise to most readers that St. Patrick’s day is one of serious consumption. It’s the fourth biggest drinking day of the year, after New Year’s Eve, Christmas, and the Fourth of July. Guinness, the Irish brewing giant, sees an enormous spike in purchases around St. Patrick’s day — sales rise to nearly twice that of a typical day. All told, more than 13 million pints of the dark beer are consumed across the globe on St. Patty’s Day — enough Guinness to fill 60% of the Empire State Building.

The effect of St. Patrick’s Day on food consumption is also profound. Corned beef and cabbage distributors see sales spike so drastically in mid-March that the holiday is considered that industry’s “Christmas.” Only 5% of Americans consume corned beef on a regular basis (“regular basis” here meaning around three or four times a year), but more than 30% enjoy the traditionally Irish dish on St. Patty’s day. Vendors of corned beef prepare weeks in advance for the surge, which can put a heavy strain on supply chains, as well as vendors and grocers who don’t usually see such high demand for their product.

… And Be Merry

The consumption doesn’t stop at the bar or the dining table, though. In keeping with tradition, 83% of Americans will wear green on St. Patrick’s Day, and 25% will decorate their home or office for the occasion. Up to seven million greeting cards will circulate through the mail. While Christmas, Easter, and Halloween are holidays typically associated with a commercial uptick, St. Patty’s sees some serious spikes in retail spending of its own.

Then, of course, there’s everyone’s favorite St. Patrick’s Day tradition: the parade. The first St. Patty’s Day parade took place in 1737 in Boston, where more than a million people continue to attend the event each year. Several million more will go to similar parades around the nation — New York City, for instance, is expecting two million people at this year’s festivities.

Chicago is another city famous for its Irish pride: the city notoriously dyes its eponymous river green for the holiday, in a ceremony that begins at 9am and involves a top-secret ingredient (tested and deemed safe to the environment by expert chemists, of course). In the New Jersey city of Hoboken, known for its raucous celebrations, the city has already set aside more than $100,000 in overtime pay for its police force in order to set up, take down, and deal with drunken revelers throughout the festivities.

Regardless of how the day is celebrated, the supply chains that coordinate all of these moving parts are indispensable. So when you’re out there in your green apparel, appreciating the St. Patrick’s floats rumbling by, raise a glass to all the hard-working people whose coordination makes the whole thing possible. Then enjoy your plate of corned beef and cabbage, and wash it down with an ice cold Guinness.