Drinking outside the box: Spanish wine at retail

While volume sales of Spanish wine are down in the UK retail sphere, merchants are fighting back by diversifying their Iberian offerings, finds Arabella Mileham

Polarisation still appears to be the name of the game when it comes to Spanish wine on the UK high street. At retail, the country is characterised by sales of cheerful bulk on one hand and a growing appreciation of fine wine on the other. There is also the domination of Rioja and the new diversity emerging from Spain’s many other regions to add to the mix.

Meanwhile, tradition competes with more modern styles on the taste front, with a growing appetite for fresher wines running in tandem with demand for the full-on fruit-and-oak experience that denotes classic Spain.

Nielsen data shows Spain has taken a beating recently, with volume sales falling by 8.3% in the year to 10 September 2016, a trend that rose more steeply in the last 12 weeks. Value was also down by 6.1% to £466.9 million – nearly £36m lower than two years ago.

But retailers report healthy sales of Spanish wine – and a number have refreshed and added to their ranges over the past few month as Spain gains ground.

“The category is divided into Rioja and everywhere else, but Spain as a whole is doing very well,” Ed Betts, wine-buying manager at Asda, argues, noting that there is a new strength and depth coming out of Spain, and Brits are more willing to expand their wine horizons.

“We are seeing more interest in Bobal, Cigales, Priorat and Ribera del Duero. There are some interesting wines coming out and some very modern techniques that customers are really responding to,” he argues. “It’s not just about cheap La Mancha liquid anymore, but giving a sense of provenance and inspiration.”

This is borne out by the data that showed generic and bulk blends that suffered most. The ‘unidentified’ Spanish generics fell 11.9% by value, according to Nielsen, which, when considering it makes up around 25% of the category by value, or 32% by volume, is a considerable drop. The category lost around £15.2 million or nearly 300m 9-litre cases, representing around 58% of the overall change last year by value.

Sales of private-label wine fell by around 9.8% by value on volumes down by 11.4%, while the average price of a bottle rose by 2.5% in the year to more than £10, a jump of 25p that shows Spain is slowly becoming more premium, even though volumes sales suffered.

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