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English sparkling encouraged to tap into “moderation, local, and craft” as sales dip

Published:  28 August, 2019

A new report has suggested that English sparkling wine ticks all the right boxes to help reverse something of a slump in sales of sparkling wine over the past year – the first time this has happened in a decade.

Pointing to the success of gin, the new report from Wine Intelligence on the UK sparkling market concludes that English fizz should tap into three key trends for drinking “less but better”, “local”, and “craft”, as gin sales increasingly encroach on sparkling wine’s territory.

This is set against a backdrop of a dip in volume sales of sparkling wine in the UK in 2018 versus the year before.

The -1% blip is the first year-on-year decrease in sparkling volumes over the past decade – a fact that Wine Intelligence suggests could point to a “plateau” for sparkling wine after “large increases” in recent years.

“With the remarkable renaissance in the gin category in full swing, there is an increasing body of evidence that gin-and-tonic is encroaching on the aperitif / relaxing drink occasion that sparkling wine has very successfully dominated over the past few years, especially among younger female drinkers,” Richard Halstead, COO of Wine Intelligence, explained.

The good news is that English sparkling wine can also sit comfortably in the centre of this trio of moderation, local, and craft cues, particularly when engaging with young, well-off urbanites.

While mainstream gin brands in the UK are becoming “adept at emphasising their local and craft credentials” and also making strides in the lower alcohol category, English sparkling wine similarly fits “with the zeitgeist”.

“The growth pattern of English sparkling shows no sign of ending”, Halstead said. Although, he warned that as a category still in its infancy, distribution and brand recognition remain real challenges: “Our data suggests that consumers are more likely to look to reassuring purchase cues, such as whether the sparkling wine has won a medal or award, to guide their decision making."

Rivalry from the gin renaissance isn’t the only challenge faced by the sparkling wine industry in the UK over the past year.

There is currently a decreasing population of sparkling wine drinkers in the UK, with the monthly sparkling wine drinking population decreasing from 14.6 million in 2018 to 13.9 million in 2019.

At the same time however, the retail price of a bottle of sparkling is up 4%, conforming with more general trends of premiumisation across the wine sector. “Underlying this trend is a broader social and cultural movement to reduce alcohol consumption, and also to seek out local, ‘craft’ products which may carry more sophisticated brand signals such as a commitment to the environment, or even just a more cultural or historic connection.” Halstead said.

Along with Prosecco, English sparkling has also experienced significant increases in awareness and consumption incidence (the proportion of those who have consumed Prosecco and English Sparkling at least once) in past 12 months, demonstrating an “increase in interest about the domestic product”.

Encouragingly for English sparkling wine, the perceived “sweet spot” among consumers now sits between £23 and £30 (the same as Champagne), up from £10 to £15 in 2017.

And encouragingly for Champagne, the category is starting to “distance itself from the sub-£20 category”, and is seeing a “repositioning of Champagne in UK consumers’ minds [that is] in keeping with the drink-less-but-better trend”.

According to the research, which was carried out in tandem with the IWSR, Chapel Down is the most powerful English sparkling wine brand in the UK.

This is largely due to its larger production volumes which allow it to maintain listings in mainstream supermarkets, plus its sustained brand-building strategy of the past few years, the report said. 

Denbies meanwhile has experienced a large increase in brand purchase and conversion since 2018. Camel Valley is also a strong performer, possibly as a consequence of the “highly successful wine tourism operations” run by both brands.