UK champagne shipments fall 14% in value in 2016

Champagne shipments to the UK in 2016 were down 8.68% in volume, falling from 34.2m to 31.2m bottles and 14.03% in value, dropping from €512.2m to €440.4m, the detailed figures just released by the Comité Champagne reveal. This was the largest percentage drop in value among all the top ten export markets, only five of which showed any volume growth in 2016, with shipments to the USA rising the most, up 6.33%, although the value of the 21.8m bottles shipped to the USA only rose by 4.9%.

The fairly dramatic fall in the value of UK shipments, the Comité puts down to the depreciation in sterling and it says: “the reduction in sales of discounted Own Label champagne through the multiples [ie the supermarkets]), illustrates that aggressive discounting tactics are no longer effective to attract customers and boost the volume of champagne sales”.

While it is correct to say that supermarket Own label champagne sales fell in 2016, quite dramatically with volume down 20.6% and value down 20.1%, the average price of these supermarket Own Label champagnes sold by the likes of Tesco and Sainsbury’s was actually slightly up in 2016, from £17.50 to £17.80 a bottle. While this price may fall short of the £20 plus the Comite would like to see all champagne selling at in the important UK market, there is plenty of champagne being sold for less.

It is the ‘retailers’ exclusive’ brand champagnes, which make up a very large percentage of UK off trade sales, that are sold much more cheaply. Their average selling price in 2016 dropped from a pretty low £12.80 to £12.60 a bottle, according to Nielsen MAT figures to 31 December 2016. While supermarket Own Label champagne volume dropped from 210,800 to 165,400 9-litre cases or 1.98m bottles in 2016, ‘retailers’ exclusive’ volume rose by 8.8%, from a massive 524,100 to 570,900 9-litres cases, 6.85m bottles.

As these figures for ‘retailers’ exclusive’ brands don’t even include the 2m plus bottles sold by Lidl and Aldi, not within the Nielsen monitored universe, this low-price sector now accounts for close on half of all the champagne sold in the UK off trade – estimated at around 18.7m bottles — and it grew in volume and value in 2016. Read my feature in the May Drinks Business Champagne supplement. Sadly, I’m not sure it is true to claim that UK consumers are no longer seduced by cut price champagne.