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Why one Kent fizz is booming in the on-trade

Kent-based sparkling wine producer Chapel Down saw a 26% increase in on-trade net sales revenue for the year ended 31 December 2023.

Tom Hepworth-Bond, Chapel Down Group sales director, told the drinks business that the on-trade is “an important channel for consumer trial and recruitment” for the producer, and that it had been “a key commercial focus over the last 24 months”.

According to Chapel Down’s results, the number of on-trade listings of Chapel Down’s wine grew to more than 2,000, with more than half of those having it as a by-the-glass option.

Clearly, by-the-glass sales have been so crucial to the overall on-trade sales growth. Asked whether he thought consumers ordering a glass, rather than a bottle, was indicative of a shift towards more moderate drinking, Hepworth-Bond said: “Wine consumption by the glass has always been an important to the consumer in hospitality and there are numerous reasons behind choosing a glass over a bottle, be it to experience something new to moderate, or to enjoy a variety of drinks to accompany a meal or experience. Consumer ‘discovery’ by the glass is particularly important for us and for the growth of the wider English wine category – be it as the first drink of the night or to pair with food.”

“We work with a number of preservation system providers to ensure the freshness of our wines when served and in doing so add incremental value to our partner outlets,” he added.

As for the geographical spread, Hepworth-Bond noted that Chapel Down’s on-trade presence is particularly strong in the South-East of England and around London, but that it is also stocked in “leading venues” across the country. “Broadening our availability across the UK is an important part of Chapel Down’s growth ambitions.”

In addition to restaurants, the brand has also targeted events in an effort to bolster its profile. From the Boat Race to Ascot to England Cricket, the fizz is quickly becoming a sponsorship fixture of many sporting occasions.

“They provide great celebratory moments watched by an audience who have a rapidly growing interest in English wine,” Hepworth-Bond suggested. “In developing partnerships with supportive venues, such as Ascot Racecourse and The Oval, we are able to link the winners’ ‘podium moment’ with those celebrating in the stands with a glass of Chapel Down.”

In 2023 Chapel Down also teamed up with chef Tom Kerridge to become the Official English Sparkling Wine of his Pub in the Park festivals: “Taking our brand to 10 locations across the UK, we introduced more than 160,000 consumers to the virtues of English sparkling wine and Chapel Down in particular. It also helped to further cement our association with the finest gastronomy.”

Hepworth-Bond also argued that while in the past consumers may have ordered English sparkling for its novelty value, it was “certainly not the case now”.

“As Champagne continues to become prohibitively expensive, wine drinkers seek alternative options from other appellations or countries of origin,” he claimed. “England offers the most compelling alternative with its distinctive ‘fresh’ style. Champagne is declining (9%) in the off-trade and English sparkling wine is growing +16% YoY. This shift is being led by a consumer base who loves British produce and is proud to serve English wine as a fresher way to celebrate.”

It should be noted that the decline in UK retail sales of Champagne has led to some pretty sizeable discounts on bottles sold in supermarkets. Champagne prices are rising overall, as Hepworth-Bond mentioned, and shipments are down.

Chapel Down has fostered something of a rivalry with Champagne, including last year’s marketing stunt where it had the residents of Reims blind taste its Kent sparkling wine against the fine French fizz.

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