Always look on the light side

Light wines enjoyed great success in 2007 compared with the previous year - and things continue to improve, writes Rebecca Evans

It's happier news this time round for off-trade light wine sales after a flat 2006. Value sales grew by 6 per cent - faster than volumes - so there's firm evidence of trading up despite ongoing promotional activity.

Wine value sales grew faster than inflation - by 6 per cent - and there were some much better performances from individual brands. Seventeen out of 20 wine brands grew sales and eight of those grew sales above 20 per cent year on year.

Average growth of the top 20 stands at 22 per cent - an encouraging increase on the previous year's stats (+14 per cent).

The top five is unchanged from 2006, with Constellation's Hardys still striking the strongest chord with consumers.

Eighteen of the 20 most popular brands in the UK off-trade featured in last year's table, but there are some changes. New Zealand's Oyster Bay and Spain's Campo Viejo were new entrants to the top 20, while two Australian favourites - McGuigan Simeon's Calloway Crossing and Nego ciants brand Oxford Landing - dropped out of the rankings.

The New World continues to dominate the league, accounting for 17 of the top 20 brands. During the 12 months to Dec 29 last year, Chilean wine was the second-fastest growing country category in the UK off-trade, with value sales up 23 per cent. This trend also shows in the individual brand sales figures to Jan 27 this year. Two of the three fastest-growing wines are Chilean - Concha & Toro's self-named range and its Isla Negra wines.

Generically, New Zealand's wine sales rocketed over the past year, but for top-selling brands the picture is mixed. Delegat's Oyster Bay has enjoyed the second-fastest growing sales, up by 74 per cent to £37.3 million, while Montana's sales slipped by 6 per cent to £31.5 million.

The biggest shifts have involved Constellation-owned Kumala, which has dropped three places since this time last year. Constellation installed top Cape winemaker Bruce Jack in October to revamp the brand - too late, however, to make an impact on sales in 2007. Jack has pushed through changes already, with wine being sourced directly from producers. Kumala has also announced a three-year quality improvement plan which will track vinification from grapes to bottle.

"We're really starting to see a resurgence in the brand," he tells OLN.

Fellow South African First Cape - last year's fastest-growing brand by far - has grown value sales by 14 per cent. Brand Phoenix director Steve Barton says 2007 was all about consolidation rather than stratospheric growth. The company signed a deal with SHS Sales & Marketing that will see First Cape get wider distribution in the independent sector. The next 12 months, Barton says, will see another surge in growth. Raisin Social's South African brand Namaqua has enjoyed a strong year, and with sales up 41 per cent, it is now the second-best selling Cape wine in the UK off-trade, behind Kumala.

While sales performance is up across the top 20, the Australian brands have e xperienced slower growth than rivals from other New World countries, with oversupply problems having an impact.

Rosemount is the exception. In 2006, its sales were down by 32 per cent , whereas last year saw a sales resurgence, up 37 per cent to £36. 5 million . Foster's EMEA's revamp of the brand in late 2006 ha s clearly reaped rewards.

A mere three brands in the top 20 are sourced wholly from Europe - JP Chenet, Campo Viejo and Piat d'Or. Les Grands Chais brand JP Chenet enjoyed strong sales performance during 2007, thanks to its wide distribution and consistency, according to LGC UK director Tim North.

Over the next 12 months, LGC will focus its efforts on developing a premium range priced at around £5.99. Its entry-level dual-variet al range will be kept below the £4 mark, regardless of duty increases, North says.

While retailers may be holding their breath in anticipation of next month's Budget , some comfort can be taken from the knowledge that light wine sales are much healthier than in 2006.

Star performer

Chilean brand Concha & Toro has upped sales by an impressive 85 per cent.

Nielsen's figures include sales of the Casillero del Diablo, Frontera, Sunrise and Trio brands. Marketing activity and range additions have helped the Chilean specialist to grow sales dramatically since it opened its UK office in 2001.

Managing director Cristián López says: "The success of both the Casillero del Diablo and Frontera brands has driven the substantial value growth for Concha & Toro in the UK market. Casillero del Diablo in particular had a strong year in 2007, almost doubling turnover while increasing the average retail price by more than 10p."

Head winemaker Marcelo Papa has ensured consistency, while "2008 will see a further increase of investment for Casillero del Diablo. Highlights include an integrated advertising campaign across cinema, press and online and an exclusive wine sponsorship with a series of summer proms concerts".

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