Sherry needs fortifying - fast

23 February, 2007

Port's in a storm as image problems see sales drain away in misunderstood category

Remember the sherry revival? The new, youthful image for port? Both concepts seem a lifetime away as fortified wine sales slide down a gradient almost as steep as the banks of the Douro.

Significantly, market leader Harveys Bristol Cream has seen a sales decline that mirrors the headline figure for the entire category, for which it is the unofficial talisman. It seems harsh on a brand which has worked hard to improve its consumer appeal in the past year: the launch of Fino, Orange and Reserve have given the nation's favourite sherry extra dimensions, but even this NPD hasn't been enough to transform its fortunes. The top selling port, Taylor's Select, suffered the same 6 per cent value decline.

Nobody in the top 10 escaped a fall in sales, suggesting this problem is unlikely to be resolved by one individual brand. Port and sherry producers are bickering about price discounting, but the harsh truth may be that both categories have serious image problems.

At a time when wine producers are wondering what tricks to use to attract younger drinkers, sherry and port are in a tough position. What exactly, a 23-year-old might ask, are these products for? After dinner? Christmas morning?

Even Harveys has to acknowledge its UK consumers don't really understand the product ( Spanish producers are aghast at the idea of swigging it at room temperature; their serving suggestion is over ice with a slice of orange). So how are consumers to get to grips with the idea of something as extreme as fino?

Vermouth and the fortified British wine nobody wants to talk about are also being battered and - despite headlines suggesting it's the drug of choice for most Scottish teenagers - even Buckfast is down 5 per cent, and 7 per cent in volume terms.

Many in the trade regard the turmoil in port and sherry as a tragedy: two excellent products that are perhaps the ultimate fashion victims.

Leading producers know they have a responsibility to the categories to turn things around: but can they do it soon enough to keep retailers enthused?

Star performer


Retailers gambling on a vermouth revival after new James Bond Daniel Craig dished out the recipe for his Vesper cocktail in Casino Royale may not have seen the sales boosts they hoped for but, in a market that dropped 6 per cent in 2006, Martini's 2 per cent decline looks almost healthy. And after all, the latest 007 film didn't come out until the tail end of the year - maybe Martini will be this year's big fortified success story.

Top 10 fortified wines


Brand Supplier Sales £m % Change

1 Harveys Bristol Cream Beam Global 29.5 -6

2 Martini Bacardi-Martini 26.7 -2

3 Croft Original González Byass UK 17.8 -10

4 Buckfast Tonic Wine Chandler & Co 17.7 -5

5 QC Constellation 8.6 -14

6 Cockburn's Special Reserve Beam Global 8.3 -10

7 Stones Original Constellation 6.0 -10

8 Taylor's Select Port Fladgate Partnership 4.1 -6

9 Taylor's LBV Fladgate Partnership 3.8 -2

10 VP Constellation 3.7 -17

Nielsen MAT to Dec 30 2006, GB off-trade

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