Bubbles on the rise

Although the peak time for sales of sparkling wine has just passed, the mood of New World producers appears buoyant.

The total sparkling wine market, excluding Champagne, was worth £323 million in the year to December 26, 2009, up 13%, according to Nielsen. Volumes were also up 6%, to 42 million litres. Of that, the New World represents 22% of volume sales, versus Europe’s 78%.

Nielsen analyst Stewart Blunt says: “The 12-week run up to Christmas saw [total sparkling] sales up by 9% on the same period in recession-hit 2008.

“Sales recovered in the later months, presumably as shoppers realigned to the continuing recession.

“However, New World sales remain absolutely flat as price increases moved the average paid to £6.70 per bottle, although the flatness was linked to less price promotion through the year.”?He says the bottle price for European sparkling wine averages at £5.45.

Steve Barton of Brand Phoenix believes there is more room for growth. He says he aims to break the 250,000 case mark for South African brand First Cape, to make it the fifth or sixth-largest sparkling wine on the market.

“We just got First Cape’s Pinot Grigio sparkling exclusively into Sainsbury’s. Distribution is key as you can’t do anything until you’ve got that sorted out.”?Barton believes brands will have an important role to play in “giving people the comfort to go and buy on an ongoing basis”.

“Sparkling has the opportunity to give everyday value rather than only occasion-driven sales,” he adds.

Cristian Isbej, UK & Ireland national sales director for Chile’s Undurraga, says the company is investigating the best areas to plant varieties specifically for sparkling wine.

Philippe Coulon, former head winemaker at Moët & Chandon, joined the Undurraga team at the end of last year to further strengthen its sparkling ranges.

Isbej says: “Over the past year the incremental price rises of Champagne have given us new opportunities.

“I believe sparkling will follow what we have done with still wine in the New World. We are very competitive in terms of price and quality.”?Clare Griffiths, vice-president of European consumer marketing for Constellation Europe, says it is looking to drive value into the New World sparkling category.

She explains: “This is not all about trading down from Champagne, but about trading up from still wines, and trading up through the sparkling wine category.

“There is considerable opportunity for New World sparkling wine producers to occupy a growing gap in the market: where consumers are reluctant to splash out on an expensive bottle of Champagne, but would like something more special than a still wine. In these value-conscious times, we are confident consumers would rather drink a quality New World sparkling product than a cheap Champagne.”?Last year Jacob’s Creek launched its Blanc de Blancs NV following findings from a sensory analysis programme. The 100% Chardonnay sparkler was created to fill a gap in the market for a suitable wine for “more accessible special occasions and celebrations”.

Tanners Wine Merchants stocks six New World sparkling wines, including Argentina, New Zealand and Australia. “This has risen in recent years with demand,” says marketing manager Alison Chadwick.

“With the increase in price of Champagne over the past few years, and the general improvement in perceived and real quality of New World wines, our customers are more open-minded about trying them. Anyone perceiving them all as cheap and cheerful would be wrong.

“We find customers tend to insist on Champagne for toasts at weddings and for gifts – people don’t want to look mean perhaps – but when they are buying for themselves they’re more experimental.”?Gail Gilbert, Brown Brothers’ European sales and marketing manager, agrees consumers’ perceptions are beginning to change.

“The rise in popularity of Prosecco shows consumers want some variety in the sparkling offering.

“People are looking at New World sparkling wine a bit more seriously than in the past. They have realised there is some real quality there, and it’s more affordable.

“We have proved we are capable of producing quality sparkling wine that can stand up against French-produced wines.”?Brown Brothers will be pushing Zibibbo Sparkling (rrp £7.99) and Cienna (rrp £8.99) – a sparkling red – over the coming months.

“Christmas is obviously the peak but because they are fruity styles the Zibibbo and Cienna Rosso will fit nicely into other peak periods like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter.” She says there will be a special gift-boxed version of Zibibbo for Valentine’s Day in Londis.

Barton is targeting Valentine’s, Easter and the World Cup, too, and says continuing the association with First Cape to the British and Irish Lions rugby teams will remain a “big feature”.

Jon Worsley, business sector controller at Foster’s EMEA, says a promotion that was initially run over Christmas has been extended until the end of the month.

“We launched a themed promotion into the independent trade called Add Some Sparkle to Your Business. The promotion featured all of our key sparkling wines.

“We have had an excellent take up with the promotion and are extending it until the end of February. The aim of the campaign is to showcase our portfolio of sparkling wines and demonstrate to retailers the importance of the Australian sparkling wine category,” he says.

Worsley says the recession has resulted in consumers buying more premium wines.

“According to Nielsen, those priced over £8 have seen an 18% growth as consumers tend to stay at home more and treat themselves to more premium products. The sales uplift of sparkling wine began before we entered into the recession and we are confident that this is a category that will continue to flourish.”