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Port consumption on the up during coronavirus lockdown

Taylor’s Port owner The Fladgate Partnership is seeing a marked rise in fortified wine demand during the coronavirus lockdown, while it has turned its hotels in Portugal into accommodation for medical staff.

Confirming a trend previously recorded by the drinks business, Adrian Bridge, who is CEO of The Fladgate Partnership – which also owns Croft, Krohn and Fonseca brands, along with the flagship Taylor’s name – said that his business was receiving new demand for Port as people turn to the indulgent drink while told to stay at home due to Covid-19.

He recorded, “In the last two weeks of lock down we have received orders from 19 countries (with South Korea coming in last week for the first time in two months).”

Continuing, he said, “The new orders are a total of 64 and account for new demand for 241,000 bottles. The existing orders in hand are shipping and reports back from agents are that off-trade sales are good.”

Meanwhile, on a less positive note, he observed, “The on-trade is clearly suffering everywhere, something we are seeing first hand in Portugal and in our own restaurants and hotels” – The Fladgate Partnership has four hotels in this northern part of the country.

Explaining the upwards trajectory in Port consumption among those in lockdown, he said this was due to the fact the drink provides a mood-enhancing indulgence, and, as consumers aren’t able to travel, it can be enjoyed at home without fear of breaking drink-driving laws.

“It is not uncommon that we see greater consumption of Port at home – it is a pattern that has emerged previously in periods of recession when people are looking for a great drink at the end of a meal or do not have to worry about driving home,” he said.

Adrian Bridge at The Fladgate Partnership’s hotel called The Yeatman

As has been widely reported on by db, Adrian is also spearheading an ambitious €100 million tourist attraction in Porto, called The World of Wine, which has has compared to the museums of South Kensington in terms of the variety of experiences on offer.

This major project, first announced in 2016, was due to open in July, but due to the Covid-19 outbreak, has been delayed – although, remarkably, only by a single month.

Adrian explained, “In Portugal, the lock down has not closed all businesses and both our President and Prime Minister have praised companies that are continuing to keep the economy going.

“This includes the construction sector and we continue to build The World of Wine – which will now hopefully open in late July.

“It was originally due to open in the beginning of July so it is currently expected four weeks later as a result of the stringent health and safety measures in force.

“Fortunately, it is a large site and there is no need for contractors to be close to each other.”

Looking ahead to the situation for the tourist industry in Porto and the Douro Valley after the coronavirus crisis has passed, Adrian is positive.

“I have no doubt that tourism will return. I suspect that we will be more dependent on the local market for much of the year and that full international travel will not be back until 2021 – but this is in the hands of the airlines/governments.

“Globally, tourism employs 318,000,000 people (about the size of the entire population of USA) and is worth US$8.8 trillion to world GDP. The sector will have failures but the desire to travel and explore is part of human nature.”

The Fladgate Partnership is not only continuing to provide employment during the pandemic through construction and Port production, as well as suppling consumers worldwide with the wonders of a remarkable fortified wine, but it is also supporting local health workers.

Adrian told db, “Meanwhile, we are also making alcohol based gel for various hospitals and our hotel Infante Sagres is housing front line medical staff who do not wish to return to their families after working all day at the hospital.

He added, “We have a number of brave staff who have volunteered to look after these doctors in the hotel.”

His report on Port consumption echoes the views of another major Port producer, Symington Family Estates, with Rob Symington telling db last week that his own company was seeing a spike in orders, and would be working to keep all its 450 staff in employment, despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak.

Rob said, “Although the on-trade and indies have taken a hit and basically stopped ordering, the big retailers are still placing orders and even increasing their stock – they are doing a lot of trade in wine and Port.”

Indeed, Symington Family Estates, which owns Port brands Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Cockburn’s, is up by around 40% in volume sales compared to the same period last year, according to Rob.

He explained, “Our understanding of Port consumption throughout year is that it’s not actually mostly drunk during classic formal occasions but in those cosy moments at home, and more as an everyday indulgence, so it makes sense that if you are hunkering down at home that you would be partial to a glass of Port.”

This does apply to “core ranges such as special reserve ruby Port and LBV,” he adds, pointing out that “more premium Ports with fancy cases that are associated with gifting are not up.”

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