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Liberty Report: premium on-trade wine sales still below pre-Covid levels

Published:  23 February, 2024

Wholesaler and importer Liberty Wines has released its premium on-trade report covering the two years following the final Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2021.

The report, which was produced in conjunction with CGA by NIQ, defines the ‘premium on-trade’ as the highest quality 5% of on-trade outlets in the UK, using wine sales data to provide a robust analysis of the premium sector as a whole.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, sales in the UK premium on-trade were lower in 2022/23 than they were in 2019 (down by 7%), highlighting the impact Covid and the cost-of-living crisis has had on revenues.

Meanwhile, the volume of wine sold continues its long-term decline across the market, but the premium on-trade has combatted this by selling better quality wine at higher prices, with spend per bottle up 15% since 2019, although it’s not clear in the report how much of this is due to inflation.

“Though wine sales have not recovered to 2019 levels, the premium on-trade continues to significantly outperform the rest of the market, particularly in restaurants and hotels,” said Tom Platt (pictured), Liberty Wines CEO.

He continued: “Despite a very different trading landscape, the reasons for this remained consistent during and after Covid-19. The premium on-trade continues to communicate and sell higher-quality wine successfully, increasing spend per bottle by delivering an experience that offers genuine value. It has also benefitted from offering a greater breadth of choice, which reflects a continued shift towards consumers drinking a wider range of wines.”

Post-Covid, wine sales performed poorly compared to beers and spirits in the premium on-trade. By the summer of 2022, wine only achieved 89% of its 2019 sales, while other alcohol categories stormed ahead, achieving 97% by comparison. Last summer, the difference remained stark, with other alcohol categories achieving 99% compared to 93% for wine. 

Despite an overall decline in the consumption of wine, a volume shift from on-trade to off-trade was already gathering pace well before Covid. For every bottle of wine sold in the overall on-trade during 2015, 4.7 bottles were sold in the off-trade. In 2019, this had risen by 16% to 5.5 bottles, and by summer 2023, 7.2 bottles of wine were sold in the off-trade for every bottle sold in the on-trade (a 32% increase on 2019).

The report also reveals a continued trend for consumers to drink a wider variety of different wines in the premium on-trade. The market share of the top 10 selling grapes fell by almost 2% between 2019 and summer 2023, equating to over 300,000 bottles sold of more diverse grape varieties. 

Diversification was also evident in sales trends by region, with countries rich in indigenous varieties, notably Italy and Portugal, increasing their market share. The figures also confirmed some well-established trends, with rosé sales growing 15% since 2019 and Champagne and English sparkling wine recovering ahead of other sparkling wines.

Platt added: “Though conditions are challenging, consumer willingness to spend and experiment creates opportunity for the premium on-trade. We hope this report helps our customers position themselves to make the most of this.”

A more in-depth analysis of Liberty’s report will be released in the March edition of Harpers.