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Port sales surge in UK during pandemic year

Figures released yesterday show a surge in Port sales in the UK, particularly in the run up to Christmas, despite the coronavirus restrictions.

On fire: Port sales surged in the UK during 2020

According to the Port and Douro Wines Institute (IVDP), Port sales to the UK increased by 11.4% in volume and 2.8% in value in 2020, taking final shipments close to 1 million nine-litre cases.

As a result, the UK became the fourth largest port market in the world by volume, and the second largest by value – and maintained its position as the largest premium port market by volume (see figures at the bottom of this article).

Total off-trade port sales in the UK grew by 10.3% in volume for the 12-month period to 26 December 2020, according to Nielsen Scantrack Epos (which covers grocery and convenience stores). This represented the largest volume of Port sales in the off-trade since 2015.

Symington-owned Cockburn’s Port saw 20.6% growth in the off-trade. This was largely driven by a remarkable increase in the number of people buying port in the run-up to Christmas, with the brand enjoying a 37.3% increase in sales in the last quarter of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019 (equating to over 1.5 million bottles sold in Q4, or 11.6 per minute).

The strong performance increased Cockburn’s UK market share to 25.8%, the largest since the Symingtons acquired the Port house in 2010.

Graham’s Port recorded an even greater increase in UK sales in 2020. The Symington family’s leading premium port brand grew by 22.6% in volume sold in the off-trade. 2020 marked Graham’s bicentenary and the brand released a commemorative edition of its 2015 Late Bottled Vintage Port, which, it has been said, contributed significantly to the success of the year.

“With pubs, bars and restaurants closed for much of the year and people confined to their homes, 2020 was devastating for our on-trade customers,” Johnny Symington, Chairman, Symington Family Estates.

Continuing, he said, “We were fortunate, however, that demand for port soared in the rest of the UK wine trade.”

He added, Port has long had a strong association with moments of comfort and time spent with family. In 2020, there were more of these opportunities for people to treat themselves with a glass of port or open a bottle of something special that they have been keeping.”

Such surprisingly strong performance in the UK during a pandemic year meant that the Symington family’s UK importer was, in a commendable move, able to return any money it had taken from the UK Government under its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Johnny said, “We were extremely proud of our importers, Fells, who decided in September 2020 to return all of the furlough money provided to them by the UK government in response to better than expected trading.”

As previously reported by db, after years of relatively lacklustre sales, it’s taken a pandemic to turn around Sherry’s fortunes in the UK, with consumption booming during the lockdowns.

Helping fortified wines from Port to Sherry perform so strongly during the pandemic has been the fact that they are mostly consumed at home, meaning that an unusually high proportion of their sales are through retailers.

This has cushioned this sector from the fact that the hospitality sector has been shuttered or severely restricted for much of the year in the UK, while retailers, including off-licences, have remained open.

This is in contrast to Champagne, which also experienced a surge in sales via retailers, particularly over the festive period, but, due to the high proportion of sales that go through bars and restaurants – which can be as much as 40% of Champagne’s trade – the sparkling wine was unable to offset the losses in hospitality when it came to overall performance in the UK – meaning Champagne was down 20% in volume in 2020.

Returning to the topic of fortified wines, Port and Sherry may have also benefitted from Covid-19 due to their role as comfort drinks, a trait that may have encouraged their consumption during these unsettling times.

“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,” said Symington Family Estates’ associate director Rob Symington, when speaking to db in April last year.

Meanwhile, 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.

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.

Speaking to db last year, he said, “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.

Among other categories that have actually benefitted from the restrictions on basic human freedoms imposed by the UK government in an attempt to reduce the spread of Covid-19 are board games and sex toys, as you can read about by clicking here.

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A few further facts on Port sales in 2020:

  • France became the largest port market by value in 2020 (overtaking Portugal) and maintained its position as the largest market by volume, with final port shipments expected to be over 1.8 million cases (9 litre).
  • The UK (985,000 cases) was the fourth largest port market by volume in 2020 – behind France (1.8m), Portugal (1m) and Holland (986,000).
  • Although Portugal was affected by the significant drop in tourism in 2020, it maintained its position as the second largest market by volume and dropped to the third largest market by value (€46,904,297) – just behind the UK (€46,934,997).

Source: Port and Douro Wines Institute (IVDP)


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