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UK retains top five status as global market for still and sparkling imports

Published:  22 May, 2019

The UK remains the world’s second biggest importer of still and sparkling wine, analysts have confirmed - despite the era of high volume wine sales being “over for good”.

According to preliminary results presented by the IWSR at yesterday’s London Wine Fair (LWF), the UK is still a vital cog in the global wine industry, importing only less still wine than Germany and less sparkling wine than the US in 2018.

This is in spite of the fact that volume sales of wine in the UK are down a total of 12% since 2009 and decline is expected to accelerate over the next couple of years.

“We’re in a very different place to where we were ten years ago,” said IWSR wine analyst, Adam Zdan-Michajlowicz. “Since then we’ve had a growing awareness of binge drinking, supermarkets rationalising ranges to tackle the discounters, the duty escalator squeezing margins, and now Brexit messing with sterling.

“However, the UK remains one of the top still markets for importing wine and its significance isn’t going anywhere. Even if volumes continue to decline at their current rate of 3%, it’s still going to take 11 years for us to reach the volumes of the US [the third largest importer of still wine globally].”

The data is taken from 150 markets worldwide.

Things hit a crunch point at the beginning of August 2017, with poor harvests around the world and price inflation meaning UK businesses had no choice but to start “passing on extra costs to consumers”.

However, Zdan-Michajlowicz went on to say that the UK continues to add value into the global wine category even though volumes are down.

According to the data, sales of wine £2.99 and under have decreased from 3.1% of the total wine category in 2009 to 0.3% in 2018, while sales £15+ rose from 2.2% to 3% over the same period.

This is down partly to inflation and price hikes, but also premiumisation – something the trade will need to double down on going forward.

“We can’t reverse the decline, which is going to continue to accelerate, but we can dilute it. A quarter of 18-24 year olds are non-drinkers, so we really need to think about new ways to broaden the occasions associated with wine, for example date night, book clubs, festivals and alternative formats like 18.7cl bottles which work well for picnics and ‘on the train home’.

“We’ve also seen super growth in the low and no category – especially no. There’s been a lack of big brands until this point, but now Freixenet and Hardy’s have released zero alcohol options. The barriers to this sub-category are on the wane: spinning cone technology and other advancements are rapidly improving taste,” Zdan-Michajlowicz said.