Toast of the town: what's in store for festive bubbly?

24 November, 2014

It’s nearly reached that time of year when everything’s sparkling: the fairy lights, the gifts under the Christmas tree, the tinsel – even the wines. And all the indications are that bubbly sales will be sparkling this year too.

Sparkling wine was the fastest- growing take-home drinks category in the year to August 16, according to Nielsen, with sales up 20% across the category and 44% of consumers saying they like to drink fizz.

And last Christmas sparkling wine was one of only two categories showing volume and value growth. It grew 15% by volume and 6% by value over the 12 weeks to January 4, with average bottle prices rising 54p from the rest of 2013 to £6.64, despite 70% of all sparkling wines being sold on promotion.

Prosecco has established a firm foothold in the UK, and is being credited with encouraging consumers to drink bubbly not only as a celebration, but as an alternative to still wine with food or on its own.

Virgin Wines Gifts general manager Andy Potts says: “Last year we sold six times more sparkling wine by volume than we did Champagne. Sixty-four per cent of that was Prosecco. The overall sparkling category increased in volume by 65% on the previous year, while Prosecco more than doubled. Champagne, however, remained resolutely static.”

In Oddbins, where sparkling wine sales are dominated by Champagne, sales grew 50% last Christmas. Non- Champagne sparkling wine sales grew 26%, driven by “non-Prosecco and non-cava wines”, according to buyer Ana Sapungiu.

“We have a strong selection of sparkling wine from Tasmania, Portugal and Austria in the range, which customers have been buying and coming back for all year,” she says. “We work with producers that make both entry-level and more premium sparkling wine. Once consumers are comfortable with the everyday one then they would trust that producer’s brand as a next step up.”

English Wine Producers marketing director Julia Trustram Eve says: “Sparkling wine sales are up this year and there seems to be a trend towards choosing sparkling wine as an alternative to still wine, and not just for special occasions.

“UK consumers are also becoming more adventurous about trying different sparkling wines from all over the world, and have an impressive choice.”

“It will be very interesting to see whether Prosecco’s first big Christmas in the UK affects Champagne sales or whether Champagne maintains its seasonal dominance,” says Buckingham Schenk managing director Jon Pepper.

“It is clear that Prosecco is not replacing Champagne – thus far the sales figures indicate that consumers are adopting Prosecco as an alternative to still wines due to its festive nature and approachable style. Champagne remains a key drink for special occasions.”

Ian Kellett, managing director of Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire, says: “Prosecco has definitely been the major success in terms of enticing more people into the category.

“Sparkling wine is no longer seen as something only to be served at birthdays, high days and holidays. It still evokes celebratory emotions and a real sense of fun and excitement, but is being enjoyed more often, not necessarily as an everyday drink, but as something that can make the mundane seem a little bit more special.

“For the luxury end of the market this is good news. As in other categories such as cider and spirits, once consumers become more confident at the entry level, there are significant numbers who start to explore more complex offerings at higher price points.”

Continental Wine & Food wine development manager Nicholas Tatham MW points out that Prosecco is not the first cheap sparkling wine to grab the UK public’s imagination.

“It is totally wrong to see Prosecco as the creator of a new market sector,” he says. “Cheap cava has been around for decades and not many years ago was £2.99 in Asda over the Christmas period and being supplied at around €1 a bottle ex-cellar – and this for a traditional method wine.

“It is the easy-drinking style of Prosecco that has encouraged people to consume it in preference to both Champagne and cava, and this in itself – irrespective of any price advantage – has helped drive sales and given it such a ubiquitous presence,” says Tatham.

“The impact on the truly luxury end is very limited, but lower down the scale there has been an impact on the cheaper Champagnes.”

Richard Jones, managing director of Reh Kendermann UK, is tipping Black Tower Bubbly as the biggest sparkling seller this Christmas.

He says: “There are more affordable options available to the sparkling wine sector at all levels and styles. Black Tower Bubbly is introducing new drinkers to the category with the assurance of a wine they already know and love with the added excitement of bubbles.

“New introductions to the Black Tower range – including Bubbly Pink and White – have grown the brand 30% over the past three years.

“The market is a pyramid. When the base grows the market grows as a whole, which gives an opportunity for the more premium wines to sell more.”

Freixenet is targeting frequent shoppers who create their own occasions to celebrate with a campaign called Make Everyday Sparkle, encouraging retailers to promote bubbles for girls’ nights in and with meal deals.

But it is also focusing on once- a-year bubbly buyers with a push called Uncork the Future, which encourages still wine drinkers to trade up to sparklers.

Along with merchandising campaign Create a Fizz In-store, the cava brand believes these activities could bring an extra £104 million into the sector.




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