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Merlot out as consumers get adventurous

UK consumers are showing enthusiasm for less familiar grape varieties, according to recent analysis by on-trade specialists CGA Strategy.

Still wine data for the end of 2011 (CGA Brand Index MAT to 26.11.11) showed classic varieties Chardonnay, Merlot and Zinfandel rosé leading an overall on-trade volume decline of 7%.

Merlot in particular appears to be losing favour, posting a 9.2% volume drop, around 23,000 cases. Meanwhile Chardonnay fell by 6.3% – around 16,000 cases – and Zinfandel volumes dropped by 10.5%, or around 9,000 cases.

Analysing this data, CGA’s Ellie Quigley observed: “This helps to highlight the trend that shows better-known varieties are at greater risk of losing favour in a competitive market, as consumers seek experience and ‘change from the norm’ from their visits to the on-trade.”

For Merlot and Chardonnay, this decline was primarily attributed to their faltering performance in the restaurant sector, despite CGA recording a 1% rise in these outlets. However, Quigley explained: “Wine offerings are fast becoming broader as consumers look to get more out of treat-spend, with value for money reigning supreme.”

For Zinfandel rosé, the problems lie in the ailing night and social club sector, with Quigley remarking that widespread closures “create a smaller number of options for younger audiences attracted to easy-drinking rosé.” However, she did point to significant growth for the variety in restaurants, where it has seen sales increase by 19.4%.

“It will be interesting to see if this trend continues into the summer, or whether volume increases fall to younger, drinking-led outlets,” Quigley added.

In contrast to the fortunes of these varieties, CGA reported particularly strong performances from Shiraz, which saw sales grow by 7.7%, and Viognier, which leapt by 242.2%. Blended wines also performed well, with growth of 4.5%, or around 2,000 cases, over the period.

Summing up this shift, Quigley commented: “The popularity of more obscure varieties shows the increasingly broad range of wines now being stocked in outlets, as wine offerings expand and suppliers become increasingly sophisticated with their ranges.”

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