Sales have soared in recent years in both the on- and off-trades, making the UK the biggest export market for Prosecco DOC and Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG wines. In 2013, 38 million bottles of the sparkling wine were sold here – and pretty much everyone expects growth to continue, if not at its present meteoric rate.
But every good, affordable wine has a doom-laden shadow hanging over it: the threat of a price war, loss of value, loss of quality and a consequent fall from grace.
Prosecco’s regulatory body has been catering to demand for the wine and helping ensure price stability by planting more vineyards – which meant Prosecco was one of very few Italian regions not to raise its prices last year. But UK suppliers are warning producers not to give in to temptation to slash prices if plenty of wine is available – and urging them to reinforce the region’s premium credentials.
Christina Cavender, marketing manager for Boutinot, says: “It needs to maintain quality and sensible pricing. There have been increases in grape production by approximately a third over each of the past three years. As plantings come on-stream, this may put some pressure on co- operatives and larger producers to slash prices to clear stocks. This must be resisted.”
Andrew Shaw, head of buying for Bibendum, says Prosecco producers must focus on premiumisation. “Prosecco needs to stretch the category upwards in terms of price, but this needs to go hand in hand with education,” he says. Explaining the quality differences between different Proseccos will be essential to encourage drinkers to trade up.
“There is definitely a place for more vintage or single-vineyard wines such as those from Cartizze, and the authorities in Italy could do more as regards the law to allow producers to use labels to communicate a premium message.
“If we can avoid killing the golden goose by over-promoting Prosecco and using its popularity to attract shoppers in-store to buy other products, then the future of the category should be very bright.”
Jon Pepper MW, managing director of Buckingham Schenk, expects to sell around 3 million bottles of Prosecco this year from a standing start 18 months ago, under various own labels as well as the Bacio Della Luna brand. He says: “We are starting to see more premium Prosecco, whereas normally you see it the other way around. People are seeking to expand the category and looking at different regions, DOCs and DOCGs to trade the consumer up. It is a really interesting way for a category to develop.”
Although Prosecco is now a household name, it needs to do more to promote itself as a brand – and would benefit from a leading brand. Shaw says: “No one brand has yet caught the imagination of drinkers. There’s no Prosecco equivalent of a Moët, Veuve or Bollinger. There is definitely a gap in the market just waiting for an ambitious, well-funded producer to fill – and the rest of the category can benefit from the halo effect.”
Liberty Wines managing director David Gleave adds: “Producers need to work together to forge a stronger identity for the wine in order to allow it to make the transition from ‘trendy’ to ‘established’.”
Continental Wine & Food wine development manager Nick Tatham MW says: “I predict that Prosecco sales will continue to rise for the next two to three years at least, but producers should not be focused too much on volumes – it is better to have good-quality sales.
“Producers are making new wines, especially more expensive wines, hoping that the Prosecco market will evolve to cover a wider range of price points as consumers start to experiment and seek Proseccos which are suitable for more formal occasions and to go with food.”
“Prosecco really is the hot category for us,” says Robin Copestick, managing director of Copestick Murray, which distributes Mionetto and Follador.
He adds: “I genuinely see the Prosecco category becoming like Champagne, in that retailers and the on-trade will have their entry level, a mid-tier and a premium section.
“If quality levels are maintained then Prosecco will be unbeatable. I firmly believe we will see exponential growth for Proseccos at all price points. Retailers will give the category more space, which will then create more sales, and this in turn will lead to even more space and greater sales.
“Prosecco will be the success story of the 21st century.”