UK Champagne sales rebound over summer

The latest Champagne figures from Nielsen show that the off-trade enjoyed an especially strong summer, boosting the total value of Champagne sales by 25% versus last year.

Speaking to the drinks business regarding the release of the latest figures, Andrew Hawes, chairman of the country’s Champagne Agents Association, as well as managing director of Mentzendorff – the importer for Bollinger and Ayala Champagnes in the UK – said that overall, “it’s a resilient picture”.

He recently spoke to db about how this year had been “good but a rollercoaster” for the UK Champagne market but this latest figures filled him with more confidence.

From the beginning of 2020 to the third week of March he said that volumes were “on or above the previous two years”.

The beginning of the lockdown in late March and through April were then especially tough with volumes falling 60% (this being set against a very strong Easter season in 2019 as well) but in early May, “we see the market clawing its way back until, by June, end of June, we’re back on an even keel again and until the end of July tracking on or above [the same period] versus 2019 or 2018.”

August was then “fairly extraordinary” with figures “a long way ahead of 2018 or 2019,” he added.

Looking at the moving annual total (MAT) supplied by Nielsen to 5 September 2020, overall sales of Champagne by volume were down 4%. On the 12 week basis from June to August 2020 alone, however, volumes were actually up 13% versus the same period in 2019 and for the last four weeks of that period volumes were up 17%.

The sales by value were even stronger. The MAT figures overall (to 5 September) show sales up 25% by value versus the same period in 2019. In the last 12 weeks they were up 20% and 23% in the last four weeks – again, all versus the same time periods in 2019.

Hawes commented that what these figures showed was the “continuing decline of retailer exclusive  labels (which are steeply in decline) and the decline in own-label.”

As the volume in the UK market has shrunk, in tandem with a reduction of yields in Champagne, so there has been less wine available for these labels.

“The growth,” said Hawes, “is driven by the leading premium brands, which is why you see value performance above volume.”

Far from floundering in the face of the pandemic, sales are proving extremely robust. Hawes said there was no need for him to even try and “paint an overly glass half full picture”.

Furthermore, these are just the statistics from the off-trade tracked by Nielsen and does not include Champagne sales from independents or fine wine merchants – with db aware that latter have been reporting very strong interest with their various new offers throughout the year. The true value gain may be even stronger than what Nielsen has tracked.

Nor do the figures include any activity in the on-trade. Clearly this sector has been heavily impacted by the pandemic but Hawes, James Simpson MW of the Pol Roger Portfolio and others have all mentioned to db that the summer boom in retail was reflected in the on-trade with substantial activity in popular holiday spots across the UK.

The figures also bolster Hawes’s repeated line over the past few years that the UK Champagne market is in a much stronger position than many give it credit for.

As the bubble slowly deflates on the volume driven side o the category, he added, “what we’re seeing is the underlying strength of brands and interest in Champagne.”

With the recent impositions placed on the on-trade and the possibility of further lockdowns and restrictions, the year and its topsy-turvy course is far from over. Nonetheless, Champagne and indeed the wider UK sparkling wine category, does not appear to have been left behind during this difficult trading period.

For more on the UK market for Champagne, see the upcoming October issue of the drinks business.

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