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Sparkling Wine: News Analysis

Recent research proves just how deeply sparkling wine is embedded in the UK drinking culture. And, as Graham Holter reports, it’s not just prosecco producers who are celebrating


In the current economic gloom, it sometimes seems there isn’t much worth celebrating – and yet still the corks pop on bottles of sparkling wine. Consumption of fizz in the UK has been growing at around 3% a year for the past decade, with Wine Intelligence finding that 56% of alcohol drinkers enjoy sparkling wine of some sort at least once a year – not far behind the number that drinks beer.

Now, for the first time, it can be argued that there is such an animal as a ‘committed sparkling wine drinker’, with 5m people drinking sparkling wine at least once a week. Those who consume at least once a month – representing 90% of the market by volume – are slightly more likely to be women than men, but divided fairly evenly across the generations, with 41% coming from the AB socio-economic group.

What’s driving sales?
The role of prosecco in driving sales has been widely acknowledged. Though there are question marks over how resilient the category will be to recent price increases, the consumer data shows that it’s not just prosecco that’s been performing strongly.
Champagne continues to hold its own, just about, in the restaurant trade. Here, it’s ordered by 31% of sparkling wine drinkers – a similar proportion to those choosing New World sparklers (from Australia, New Zealand or the USA). Prosecco is close behind with 30% – but then so is English sparkling wine, on 27%.

Arguably the big story is this growing awareness of and interest in domestically-produced fizz, which is being taken more seriously by restaurateurs and consumers alike. According to the Wine Intelligence research, 14% of sparkling wine consumers say they drink English sparkling at least once a month. That’s about one in seven of the UK sparkling drinking population, so 3.5m people.

five million people drink sparkling wine at least once a week

While this is almost certainly an exaggeration of the true picture – England only produces around 2m bottles of sparkling wine per year – it reflects a growing top-of-mind presence for English sparkling. And one that, with hundreds more hectares of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir due to come on stream over the next few years, looks set to increase.

In pubs and bars, where sparkling wine drinkers are less inclined to buy anything bubbly, New World sparklers lead the field in terms of consumer appeal, followed by prosecco and English sparkling wine.

Occasion drinkers
Why do people drink sparkling wine in the on-trade? Special events, such as weddings and christenings, are the most popular excuse, followed by parties and celebrations. Only 19% of regular sparkling wine drinkers will order fizz as a relaxing drink in a pub or bar, which suggests potential for by-the-glass offers.

Given the bleak economic outlook, can we expect sparkling wine’s upward curve to continue? Since the difficult few years the UK has recently encountered have failed to derail the category’s progress, the answer, it seems, is ‘yes’.

‘It is a trend that is largely independent of economic conditions,’ says Richard Halstead, COO of Wine Intelligence and co-author of the annual Sparkling Wine Report. ‘There is some evidence of trading down among more committed sparkling drinkers, but the growth of Prosecco at £7-8 in the off-trade has driven sparkling prices up.’

This is borne out by the research, which shows that, in spite of the faltering economy, the vast majority of sparkling wine drinkers foresee no change in their drinking habits in the coming year. In 2012 it seems that the UK sparkling wine market still has much to celebrate.

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – March/April 2012

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