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French organic wine sales grow to a billion euros with UK sales on the rise

Published:  26 February, 2018

Sales of organic wines are on the rise after a slump in recent years figures show, with growth in France and the UK far outpacing the non-organic market.

A rising number of vineyards switching to sustainable practices in France and growing organic sales figures across Europe were the subject of much debate the year’s first European shows, where many producers revealed ranges tailored to meet the growing demand for organic wines, which according to Millésime Bio co-founder Jacques Frelin, is currently growing faster than production.

Figures presented at the organic wine fair in January and also last week’s Mediterranean expo Vinisud in Montpellier, put the sector’s French sales in excess of €1.2 billion in 2017 – a figure which has tripled in the past seven years.

By far the world’s biggest producer of organic wines, Europe now owns 90% of total global organic vineyards; and 75% of this production is concentrated in three countries: Spain, Italy and France, with Spain coming out on top with 106,719 ha of organically cultivated vineyards.

Although the 333,000 ha of organic vineyards globally represent only 4.7% of the world’s total winegrowing surface area, that number is one that’s rising fast on the back of healthier and conscientious eating/drinking trends.

After “years of slow growth” damaged by the recession, Melisime Bio reports that France, with 70,740 organic hectares, registered 467 new organic winegrowers in 2017, compared to 343 in 2016, 227 in 2015 and 170 in 2014.

In France, the biggest grouping of organically-minded producers are based in the Occitanie (fusion of the Languedoc-Rousillion with the Mid-Pyrénées), which lays claim to 35% of the country’s organic winegrowing land; and, combined with the Rhône, Bordeaux and Provence, accounts for 75% of all French organic production.

Cellier de Dauphins, the biggest producer in the Rhône with 12,500 ha, has also seen an evolution in the interest in organic wines, with sales up by a sizeable 23% in 2017 (IRI off-trade figures) – ahead of overall French organic off-trade sector, which rose by 13.4% between 2015 and 2016 (Vinisud).

Similar upward trends are at work in the UK, where value sales of organic wine rose 22% in the year to December 31, compared with less than 3% growth in non-organic for the same period (Nielsen Scantrack).

However, Celliers des Dauphins, whose biggest export brand, Les Dauphins, is a familiar label in the likes of Waitrose - while about to launch its Organic Sulphite-Free label in France - has yet to bring its organic wines to the UK.

“In France and northern Europe, organic wine is very important, but for the UK, sensitivity is just starting now,” said James Fuselier, marketing director at Cellier des Dauphins.

“What we find is that across Europe the trends are the same, but at different levels of progression. We’ve also noticed that across Europe, consumers are becoming more and more similar. Buying habits of consumers aged 40 and under are more closely aligned now across Europe than the over 50s.”

Time and again, the younger generation is shown to be the main backers of the organic sector in both food and drink.

In a comparative study of New York and Paris wine consumption trends by SoWine at Vinisud, findings showed that in both cities, 21-35 year olds are more concerned about responsible practices in general and are also more likely to purchase organic wines regularly than their older counterparts – findings which are likely to be replicated in London according to SoWine’s founders.

In terms of drivers of organic growth, these differ between the UK and France.

According to Ipsos, in France, consumers are driven by a desire to protect the environment, while Brits are more driven by curiosity – an insight that goes some way to confirming a less-developed sector in the UK, but one which has increasing potential as awareness grows.