Champagne shipments to UK fall by 1m bottles

Champagne shipments to the UK fell by 1m bottles in 2018, although the British market for the fine French fizz has “stabilised and rebalanced”.

Following the release of official Champagne shipment figures for 2018 at ProWein, db can confirm that the UK market has seen a decline in Champagne imports, but at a lower rate than the previous year.

While 2017 witnessed a drop in shipments of more than 11% – taking the UK market down by almost 4 million bottles to 27.8m – last year saw that number drop by 3.6%, or 1m bottles, to total 26.8m for 2018.

With the average price of Champagne in the UK retail sector on the rise, and sales by volume slowing at a reduced rate, the British market may be smaller, but it is also more upmarket, according to Andrew Hawes, who is chairman of the UK Champagne Agents Association and managing director of Mentzendorff, the UK importer and distributor for Bollinger.

As a result, during an exclusive interview with the drinks business, he said, “Champagne in the UK is heading back to where it was 30 years ago – which is a smaller, more premium market.”

While acknowledging the fact that Champagne sales have dropped in the UK, he also recorded a stable market for sales of relatively expensive branded Champagne, collectively known as les grandes marques, along with the emergence of a stronger sector for ‘grower-Champagnes’ – those produced by vineyard owners using only grapes from their own estate.

“It is easy to look at the top-line number and see it as negative for the UK market, but if you look at the trends below that, then there is an interesting story, and I’m taking the positive angle for Champagne in the UK,” he said.

Such an optimistic outlook concerns the fact that “the long-established quality premium brands are holding their own or in some cases growing share in a falling market.”

He also recorded a marketplace for “the grower side of things”, which is said may be “niche”, but “totally new” and “gathering momentum”.

Continuing, he said that such Champagnes had only recently “found their correct route to market, which is via indie specialists and serious restaurants”, observing that their approach is “terroir-driven, almost Burgundian”.

Far from seeing such a development as a threat to bigger négociant branded Champagne, he said that “the grower movement is rightly drawing attention to their own wines and styles, and helping to remind everybody that this is how all Champagne is produced: it is a quality product.”

As for the slowdown in volume decline in Champagne in the UK, he said that there was a positive story to tell here too, with the market “stabilised and rebalanced”.

Following the Global Financial Crisis (GRC) of late 2008 onwards, he said that volume sales of Champagne in Britain had been “held up” by “high-low” promotional activity in multiple grocers – which prevented the market for Champagne “correcting as much as one might expect it to after the GFC.”

Such price discounting in UK supermarkets was fuelled by the “sudden stock availability” of Champagne following the economic shock, felt globally, post the Lehmann crash.

However, “that cycle has now run its course”, according to Hawes, who said that ‘generic’ Champagne sold at discounted prices was less prevalent in the UK.

“Own-label and tertiary brand activity is still there, but there is less of it,” he stated.

Looking at the longer term, he said that the strength of Champagne was notable.

“If you look at shipments over 40 or 50 years, then Champagne has survived the oil crisis of the 70s, the collapse of the stock market in the 80s, and then the GFC, following by the rise of Prosecco and the rise and fall of Champagne in the supermarkets,” he said.

Consequently, he concluded, “You have to be struck by the remarkable resilience of Champagne in the face of all these things.”

The UK total market for Champagne:

Shipments to the UK in 2018 (Comité Champagne): 26.8m bottles (-3.6%)
Shipments to the UK in 2017 (Comité Champagne): 27.8m bottles (-11%)
Shipments to the UK in 2016 (Comité Champagne): 31.2m bottles (-8.7%)
Shipments to the UK in 2015 (Comité Champagne): 34.2m bottles (+4.5%)
Shipments to the UK in 2014 (Comité Champagne): 32.7m bottles (+6.2%)
Shipments to the UK in 2013 (Comité Champagne): 30.8m bottles (-5.2%)
Shipments to the UK in 2012 (Comité Champagne): 32.5m bottles (-5.8%)
Shipments to the UK in 2011 (Comité Champagne): 34.5m bottles (-2.8%)
Shipments to the UK in 2010 (Comité Champagne): 35.5m bottles (+16.4%)
Shipments to the UK in 2009 (Comité Champagne): 30.5m bottles (-15.3%)
Shipments to the UK in 2008 (Comité Champagne): 36.0m bottles (-7.9%)
Shipments to the UK in 2007 (Comité Champagne): 39.1m bottles (+6.3%)

• Shipments of Champagne to the UK have dropped by 7.4m bottles over the past four years, but have fallen by 12.3m bottles from a peak this century of 39.1m in 2007.

The UK retail market for Champagne:

UK off-trade sales by volume MAT to 05.01.19 (Nielsen): 10.3m bottles (-8%)
UK off-trade sales by value MAT to 05.01.19 (Nielsen): £287m (-3%)
UK off-trade average price per bottle (Nielsen): £23.22 (+5.6%)

The UK retail market for sparkling wine: 

UK off-trade sales by volume MAT to 05.01.19 (Nielsen): 99.8m bottles (-3%)
UK off-trade sales by value MAT to 05.01.19 (Nielsen): £865m (+1%)

• Champagne represents 10% of the UK retail market for sparkling wine, but one third of the category by value.

• It is important to note that the figures above from Nielsen are primarily a reflection of the performance of Champagne/sparkling wine in the UK supermarkets. Nielsen captures very little of the sales through the UK’s independent wine shops or fine wine merchants, and such numbers do not include the on-trade. As a result, these results do not include an important proportion of the high-value sales of Champagne in the UK.

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