Hopes for a 2008 revival

This time last year every fortified wine in the top 10 was losing sales, many in double-digit percentages. But at the end of January 2008 the market looked positively buoyant, with four of the top 10 growing sales, all by more than 10 per cent.

OK, the surge in sales of British fortified wines - QC from Constellation, and Mansion House from Halewood International - isn't exactly evidence of the type of fino-and-tapas or port-with-food revivals the higher end of the market is hoping for , but in this struggling category any growth has got to be good.

The fact that Tesco chose Dow's Master Blend LBV for a Christmas promotion - boosting its sales by 117 per cent and volumes by 101 per cent - is encouraging.

Paul Symington, joint managing director of Symingtons, which owns Dow's among other port brands, points out that port sales are not seeing the same losses sherry, f ortified British wine, Montilla and vermouth have been suffering from. In the year to Dec 29 2007 sales grew 3 per cent and volumes 4 per cent - no doubt in part thanks to the uplift from the Dow's promotion.

The other big sales increase came from Constellation's Stone's Original Ginger Wine, which boosted sales by 12 per cent and volumes by 7 per cent. Owner Constellation says this is thanks to a ginger wine comeback which it capitalised on with an on-pack cocktail recipe book.

Traditional favourites Harveys, Martini and Croft Original saw sales slump .

In such a struggling market, a drop of 2 per cent in sales and 4 per cent volume almost looks like good news - it's certainly an improvement on the 8 per cent volume and value drops of last year.

But with the euro gaining against the pound and farming costs rising, it looks like producers will be forced to raise prices - and that could nip this revival in the bud before it really begins.

Star performer

Dow's Master Blend catapulted itself into the top 10 when Tesco decided to run a half-price promotion - £10.99 reduced to £5.49 - over Christmas, giving the LBV a 117 per cent sales uplift. "We haven't managed to deseasonalise it, but at Christmas time there is no doubt the British consumer is continuing to buy his or her bottle of port for Christmas lunch or dinner," says joint managing director Paul Symington. "We are not complacent in any way and it is very tough, but the underlying sales figures are good."

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