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Still wine wins out as UK drinking occasions rise to new heights

Published:  14 May, 2020

The UK’s 28 million wine consumers have found new and more occasions to enjoy their favourite drink, according to new research from Wine Intelligence.

The analyst’s UK COVID-19 Impact Report states that despite lockdown and the total shutdown of in-house on-trade dining and bar visits, committed wine imbibers have “found new occasions for wine drinking during lockdown: at lunchtime, or catching up with friends online, or replacing the trip to the restaurant with a more indulgent evening meal”.

According to responses polled from 1,000 UK-resident monthly wine drinkers, the online channel has understandably been the “big winner”, with an initial big spike in lockdown-oriented sales now continuing to deliver stronger-than-normal sales for supermarkets, merchants and online specialists.

However, and while these sales are being driven by “younger, affluent and urban-dwelling wine drinkers” - who are also ordering with greater frequency - there are significant differences emerging between differing age groups in wine purchasing behaviour.

Drinkers aged 25-54 have been leading the charge, with those that are normally the most regular drinkers and most engaged correspondingly finding and driving those additional drinking occasions.

Conversely, Gen Z drinkers, those aged between 18-24, are cutting back on their already lower frequency engagement with wine, with the report surmising that this is “perhaps more affected by the loss of socialising opportunities”.

Overall, from March 2019, when average wine drinking frequency sat at 9.5 times on average for the month, this frequency rose to 9.9 times (equivalent) ahead of lockdown in March 2020, peaking at 10.3 following lockdown.

Meanwhile, volume sales may still be on a high, but for the representative sample surveyed, overall spend per bottle was down across all at-home drinking occasions, bucking the upward trend of the 12 months preceding the pandemic.

Looking at drinks (sub-)categories, sales volumes of still wines, along with bottled water and other non-alcoholic beverages sales rose, while sparkling and fortified wines, along with spirits declined. Beer also dipped slightly.

Supermarkets picked up the biggest jump in online sales, followed by online wine stores and then mail order. However, and with many indie merchants having closed their (physical) doors, convenience stores were the only bricks and mortar retail sector to experience an uplift in wine sales through in-store purchasing.

Consumer caution with regard to discretionary spend is likely to grow as the harsh economic impact of Covid-19 now begins to bite, but Wine Intelligence’s chief operating officer Richard Halstead delivered a modest note of optimism for the off-trade.

“Finally, when it comes to the future, the British wine drinker is understandably quite cautious about their household finances and the idea of getting on a plane. Mercifully for the wine category, and in common with consumers in other markets, UK wine drinkers are still choosing to buy wine even as their plans for summer holidays get put on hold,” he said.