Return of the booze cruise as Euro dips

15 May, 2015

The Calais booze cruise is making a comeback, two decades after its heyday.

Despite the recent duty freeze on wine and cuts in rates for other types of alcohol, lower taxes in France offer favourable shelf prices over British shops, and a weakening of the euro against the pound has widened the gap even further.

Cheap fuel on the French side of the channel has also reduced the cost of shopping trips.

The currency exchange Caxton FX has produced figures which show a 14% annual increase in British shoppers in Carrefour supermarkets – and a 56% rise over two years.

Marco Attard, owner of the Calais Wine Superstore, said the company has seen a 15%-20% year-on-year rise in business.

“It’s not so much the prices but people’s perceptions of what has happened with the euro,” said Attard. “But having said that, European wines are definitely cheaper.”

Attard said half of his business was in pre-orders made by customers before they left the UK.

Majestic’s website is currently advertising Calais wine prices at £3 per bottle less than the best in its UK stores.

The wines are available for click and collect at its two Calais stores and prices start from £1.99 a bottle. Some will be £1.49 over the summer.

Majestic says the click and col- lect option accounts for 45% of its sales in Calais, where it increased profits by 11.8% in the first half of its 2014/15 financial year.

A spokeswoman said: “The stronger pound has encouraged customers to cross the Channel to shop in France.”

The retailer has online ticket deals with P&O and Eurotunnel.

P&O spokesman Brian Rees said the ferry company was seeing more uptake in tickets for short breaks over dedicated shopping trips.

“Obviously, the more favourable exchange rate makes that easier as the cost of accommodation, dining out, admission to attractions, fuel and shopping all become more attractive, so that plays to our advantage.

“But unless you’re buying in bulk – and there’s clearly a niche that does that, say for a wedding reception – then it seems to us a trip to France is the main driver.”

But Attard said: “Our increase has all been from dedicated shopping trips, no question about that. These are all people going there with an empty car to fill it up.”

Booze cruises were a cultural phenomenon of the 1990s, caused by a combination of low duty and the removal of limits on how much duty-paid alcohol Brits could bring back from France. Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Victoria Wine and Oddbins all opened branches in and around Calais at that time.

Calais Wine Superstore took over the Oddbins site in 2010, the same year that Tesco and Sainsbury’s closed their Calais operations.

The multiples blamed volatile exchange rates, increased use of the internet and regular disruption to cross-Channel ferry services for the closures.

Retailers that remained in Calais reported an upturn in cross-Channel business in 2012 during a previous weak spell for the euro.

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