The UK consumer’s love affair with sparkling wine appears to be waning, though the growing domestic sparkling industry seems to be benefiting from a ‘buy local’ wave arising from lockdown
Even before the impact of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the UK consumer relationship with sparkling wine was changing. After a high-water mark in 2018, when nearly 210 million bottles of sparkling wine were consumed, most of it Prosecco, the tide has started to go out. 2019 volumes have dropped to a shade over 200 million bottles, a 5% decline.
At the same time, the UK consumer audience for sparkling wine has been falling. As with volumes, the sparkling wine drinking population peaked in 2018 at around 26 million drinkers, up from 20 million in 2010. In 2020 it has settled back to around 23 million drinkers, of whom just under 13 million drink the category monthly or more. The drinks portfolios of those who remain in the category offer a clue as to what might be driving this decline: sparkling wine drinkers are increasingly turning to gin and beer (including craft beer), and to a lesser extent ready-to-drink alcoholic beverages. Prosecco o’clock is giving way to gin o’clock.
Amid this broader trend, the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown has not been good news for celebrations and big gatherings, which remain sparkling wine’s salient occasions. Champagne, already seeing a long-term decline in volumes sold in the UK, appears to have been the biggest casualty of the restrictions and associated fall in economic activity.
On the other hand, the broader COVID-era trend of buying local appears to be benefiting the English sparkling wine category. For all the positive media coverage, English Sparkling remains niche (only 1 in 5 sparkling drinkers have consumed it in the past year), partly because, as our report suggests, not many people have actually been able to find it in a shop or on a wine list. This is changing, thanks to increased listings and several years of growing production volumes.
Our report shows a year-on-year increase recalled purchase levels of English sparkling wine since lockdown. English producers can also take comfort from the increase in value and quality perceptions, to the point now where its perceived overall quality levels and expected price is very close to that of its prestigious French cousin.
Finally, there appears to be some room for category innovation, with half of sparkling wine drinkers indicating strong interest in sparkling products that offer lower calorie, lower sugar or fruit flavours. These open-minded consumers tend to be younger, and this is also the same cohort that appears to be most likely to be tempted away to a gin, beer or ready-to-drink cocktail.