Champagne shipments to the UK slumped last year, with volumes down 11% and revenues falling by nearly 6%, official figures from the Comité Champagne show.
The declines, largely blamed on the post-Brexit vote fall in the value of the pound, follow another poor year in 2016, when shipments declined 8.7% by volume and 14% by value.
One leading player in the market told Imbibe that it had lost 500,000 bottles in sales in the UK over the past few years, adding: ‘The UK has become a very hard place to sell large amounts of champagne.’
Christopher Cooper, director of wine consultancy and communication business Drinkonomics, said champagne was ‘struggling to justify’ continued price increases in the face of rising competition from prosecco, English sparkling, Franciacorta, New World and regional French sparkling wines.
‘I think we all understand the pressures of the pound in Europe and the influence of Brexit, but recent increases are going above and beyond what is generally acceptable,' he said.
‘Equally, consumers are increasingly seeing retailers like Lidl offering champagne at £9.99, and struggling to justify to themselves paying the same price for a glass in a bar or a restaurant.
‘For this reason, I believe champagne is really going to struggle over the next few years in the UK, and especially so outside of London.’
Françoise Peretti, director of the UK Champagne Bureau, said the main reason for the decline was the reduced number of supermarket discounts on champagne.
‘Champagne's on-trade performance is robust, with 35%-plus of champagne being consumed in this sector and the UK on-trade remains a strong driver for champagne,’ she said.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that champagne has been mainly impacted at the volume end of the on-trade, where competition from rivals, such as prosecco and English sparkling, is more direct.
Earlier this year, pub group Fullers said its decision to replace house champagnes with English sparkling wines had paid off, resulting in a 50% gain in sparkling wine sales at that price level, and a five-fold surge in sales of English sparkling.
However, the upper end of the market appears to have suffered less impact. Hakkasan Group’s Christine Parkinson said the company was ‘not experiencing too much difficulty’ with champagne sales.
She added: ‘The price rises coming through at the moment are not comfortable, however, and in some cases we are taking a smaller margin, to make the selling price appealing (in fact this is helping our sales, so we are not losing out).
‘Consumer trends are often quite contradictory: many of our guests are as enthusiastic about champagne as ever, whilst others are keen to spend on non-alcoholic drinks.’