English sparkling wine volumes rose by more than a third last year and now account for 3% of the total UK sparkling wine market, which itself is the only segment of the broader UK wine category to see sustained volume growth over the past five years, according to IWSR data.
The English sparkling segment was helped last year by more retail visibility, online sales and the staycation impact of pandemic restrictions, with many producers reporting strong demand from stay-at-home holidaymakers. In 2022, this momentum looked to be continuing, with a number of UK producers expanding or introducing their wine tourism operations, with a hot summer and disruption to air travel adding momentum to the channel. In September, WineGB reported that direct-to-consumer sales by English wineries (either in person or online) had more than doubled over the past 2 years, and now represent the majority of sales by volume in the category.
At its current premium positioning, further expansion will see the segment increasingly go head-to-head with Champagne, which currently sells approximately five bottles in the UK market for every one of English sparkling sold. In fact, both Champagne and English Sparkling Wine share the same demographic trend. Both types have a notable bias towards affluent, millennial, male drinkers from London. Regular Champagne and English sparkling wine drinkers also over-index on frequency of purchase and consumption. Generally more experimental, they enjoy consuming sparkling wine in different formats, suggesting opportunities to further reposition sparkling as an everyday drink with these groups.
The premiumisation prospects for English sparkling wine are helped by the fact that 41% of English sparkling wine drinkers in the UK believe the wines are ‘high quality’ or ‘very high quality’. Encouragingly, of all the sparkling types, only Champagne can beat this score. Not surprisingly, because of their high price points, both Champagne and English sparkling wine are at the bottom of the class in terms of perceived value for money.
Consumer perceptions of quality remain stronger for Champagne than for any other sparkling wine category among UK sparkling wine drinkers, and Wine Intelligence’s tracking data shows very little variance in this view over the past five years. However during that same time period, quality perceptions of English sparkling wine have risen significantly, to the point where it now lies second to Champagne among UK sparkling drinkers.
Unlike Champagne, however, English sparkling wines do not yet connect with celebratory occasions to the same extent. Some 54% of UK Sparkling wine drinkers view Champagne as a good drink for celebrations, vs 39% for English sparkling wine. Part of the answer lies in Champagne’s huge scale, global pre-eminence and long-cultivated reputation as a symbol of luxury and celebration, consistently reflected in consumer perceptions data.
With more and more vines being planted in England and Wales, supply will steadily become less of a block for the prospects of English sparkling wine. The proposed scrapping of the Duty premium on sparkling wine may also contribute to this growth, should it be implemented, though the relative value of this tax break will be more important to lower-priced sparkling wines. If English sparkling can establish itself as the go-to refreshment for celebrations, it would transform the growth prospects for the segment. The consumer data suggests this relatively young category has the tools to win, but it will take time.
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