France is the fastest growing market for… Prosecco

Despite a widespread belief that wine drinkers in France consume only their country’s own produce, the nation is embracing Italy’s famous fizz, Prosecco.

In figures released exclusively to the drinks business this week, estimated year-end numbers for DOC Prosecco show an increase in shipments to France of almost 35%.

This makes it the fastest growing major market for DOC Prosecco, beating even the US in terms of the rate of increase, with the latter nation seeing a 21.7% rise on 2018’s total.

Such growth in France means the nation now imports 18.9 million bottles of DOC Prosecco annually, making it the fourth largest export market for the Italian fizz, although it is still significantly smaller than the number one Prosecco importer, the UK, which has seen shipments increase by 7% to total 115.4m bottles in 2019.

Considering France makes Champagne, and a raft of cremants, be they from the Loire, Bourgogne, Alsace, Limoux or the Jura, the growing demand for Prosecco may seem surprising.

Not for Richard Halstead, COO at Wine Intelligence, who sees the demand for the Italian fizz in France as part of this nation’s ingrained taste for sparkling wine, and a desire among a new generation of drinkers to consume something different from their elders.

“France has always been a big drinker of sparkling, from Champagne to regional sparkling wines, and consumes on average five litres a year, which is double the consumption in the UK at 2.5l, and Prosecco has probably grown in the French market because of some kind of age-related desire to drink something different from your parents,” he said in an interview with db.

According to Villa Sandi export manager Flavio Geretto, such has been the growth in Prosecco sales to France, the country is now the third largest market after the UK and US for the Italian fizz, leapfrogging Germany, that is, if you consider shipments of just Prosecco spumante, because Germany is a huge consumer of the lower-pressure and cheaper Prosecco frizzante.

Geretto ascribes the increasing demand for Prosecco in France primarily to this nation’s major retailers, who have been listing more of the Italian sparkling. This is probably due to the introduction in France in January last year of a set of rules to restrict the nature of promotions on certain domestically-produced goods, from foie gras to Champagne, which are part of a wider government act called the Loi EGalim.

With the new legislation putting limits on the amount of Champagne that can be sold on promotion, and the extent of the price discount, consumers who are chiefly attracted to buy Champagne because of the deals in French supermarkets have not been tempted to pick up the product in the same quantities.

And, with the increased presence of Prosecco on the shelves of these retailers, it is easy for such consumers to shift from cheap Champagne to the Italian fizz. While this is benefitting sales of Prosecco, Geretto mourns the fact that the Italian fizz is being sold by the French retailers at low prices. “The average price of Prosecco on the shelf is €6.3 in France, while it is around £7.50 in the UK, and in the US, it is $10.99 to $12.99 – the US is a different story,” he says, providing a contrasting picture of sales in Europe versus the US, where the demand is generally for higher-priced producer-branded Prosecco.

Similarly, Paolo Lasagni, who is managing director of Casa Vinicola Bosco Malera, one of the largest cooperative grower producers in north eastern Italy, comments on the rise of Prosecco sales in France, describing the increase for his own business as “incredible”. He says, “French people do not like to admit it, but they buy a lot of Prosecco, either because bartenders want it to use in cocktails or because consumers want it as an aperitif at home, because it is cheaper than Champagne and it is very light and fresh.”

However, he also draws attention to another reason why France might appear such a large market for Prosecco today, and that’s because it acts like a hub for distributing the Italian fizz worldwide. “If you look properly at the French market you will see that it includes big wine groups like GCF (Grands Chais de France), which buy a lot of Prosecco from Italy and then sell it worldwide… It’s the same in Spain, where you have a company like Freixenet, which buys a lot of Prosecco, but sells it elsewhere, so the invoice is to Spain, but the product is for the English,” he explains.

Nevertheless, he confirms that “the consumption in France is increasing a lot”, and noted that his team experienced “a lot of demand for Prosecco” at last month’s Wine Paris exhibition.

Finally, despite a widespread belief that the French are loyal consumers of their own produce, the IWSR’s research director for wine, Daniel Mettyear, confirms that shoppers in this most famous of wine producing nations are happy to buy foreign goods. “Cheaper supermarket Champagnes are losing out to Prosecco in France, and we have seen a huge growth for Cava in France over the last few years too… the loyalty to French products in France is not as strong as the French might hope it is… and now we are also seeing a lot of cheap Spanish wine coming into the French market too.”

For in-depth analysis of the global market for Prosecco, see the March edition of the drinks business, which will be out in 10 days, and can be pre-ordered here. 

Meanwhile, for more commentary on the changing market for sparkling wine in France, click here.

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