UK importer confident of Champagne comeback

One of the UK’s leading Champagne importers is optimistic for the future of the category after a Champagne sell-out at Royal Ascot.

Champagne-350x350Andrew Hawes, managing director at Mentzendorff, UK importer for Bollinger and Ayala Champagnes, told db that he could have sold his entire annual UK allocation of large format bottles of Bollinger at Royal Ascot – Britain’s famous race meeting, which ran from 14-18 June this year.

“We are still looking at the numbers, but our sales were certainly up over a third, and they exceeded all forecasts – we had to rush in additional stocks every morning,” he said, referring to sales of Bollinger and Ayala at the event.

Not only did he confirm that Bollinger, which is the official Champagne for Royal Ascot, sell out of all the magnums and jeroboams sent to the race meeting “at the beginning of the week”, but also its vintage Champagne: La Grand Année.

Speaking of the nature of the consumption at Royal Ascot, Hawes stressed that it wasn’t “an atmosphere of excess”, but a mood of “appreciative indulgence”, pointing out that “there was actually less drunkenness than in previous years; it was more measured”.

Continuing, he said that his experience of the race meeting felt “like the early days of the recovery, and now I’m feeling more optimistic for the Champagne category.”

Indeed, he admitted to db that he now believed that UK middle class Prosecco drinkers would return to Champagne.

“I’ve changed my view: a few months ago I thought that maybe a proportion of the market that has moved out of Champagne – the affluent middles classes – weren’t coming back, but at Ascot, they were there, and they were back [to Champagne],” he stated.

He added, “I didn’t see too many bottles of Prosecco at Ascot; in fact, I didn’t see any.”

Whether it was the gambling or the food at the race meeting, Hawes said that “everyone was upgrading”.

Measuring his remarks slightly, he explained that spending was “not back to 2006 and 2007”, but said that this year’s consumer behaviour was a major sign “that money is moving down through the system and people are feeling more confident enjoying themselves – it didn’t feel like a week of binge in the midst of austerity.

“People invested heavily in enjoying themselves, and that hasn’t been the case recently.”

Concluding, he said, “I think this is more than a bit of light at the end of the tunnel… we are in the tunnel.”

Bollinger is “the Official Champagne for Ascot and Royal Ascot” and has a permanent bar within the Ascot Grandstand and two further exclusive bars within the Royal Enclosure Gardens at Royal Ascot.

As a result, Bollinger Special Cuvée is poured at all Ascot hosted events throughout the year.

According to the WSTA market report for the first quarter of 2015, Champagne sales are up in the UK on-trade by 5% in volume to 55,000 hl and 18% in value to £396 million (MAT to 24.01.2015) – and that’s despite sparkling wine’s phenomenal 16% volume and 82% value growth during the same period. (Sparkling wine in the UK on-trade now represents a total of 67,000hl, worth £251m).

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