The Champagne market is unlikely to pick up in 2013 – and not before 2014/15 – according to Dr Steve Charters MW, professor of Champagne management at Reims Management School.
Charters blames the eurozone crisis, which he said has significantly impacted the Champagne market, with worldwide year-on-year shipments down 6.5% in the first half of 2012 and experts predicting year-end results to be worse than 2011.
He positioned Champagne as a reliable indicator of the state of the economy, with sales directly measured against changes in consumption. He said: “As with all previous crises that have seen poor sales, the question is how long will this crisis last?” And while the Champagne industry had the “good intuition” to target Asia’s emerging markets in 2008 it is still highly dependent on developments within Europe.
He added: “Looking back, the poor sales of 2012 are far from over and even suggest the figures resemble those of 1991.”
However, while Charters thinks Champagne makers know they must diversify their exports, as well as find a way to improve their European sales, UK independents think big brand “prostitution” is a problem in the market, as brands continue to lower prices to gain sales.
Ted Sandbach, managing director of the Oxford Wine Company, who has recently upped its Champagne focus by opening a Champagne tasting room in its Tetbury branch, said: “We’re seeing Champagne selling in supermarkets for less than £10, which is extremely irritating for indies. It means we’ve had to move away from big brands and are now concentrating on the smaller growers.
Sandbach added: “But we are seeing good consistent sales, with no let-up in the market in the brands we stock, and have had enough confidence to open a Champagne tasting room on the back of it. The only time we lose out is at Christmas and that is to supermarket-led brands selling at deflated prices.”
Ruth Yates, owner of the five-strong independent merchant Corks Out, said: “It’s a shame when big brands prostitute themselves through the national chains and supermarkets though, that just destroys what they have built up for many years and I applaud the likes of Pol Roger and Billecart Salmon who steer away from this type of selling.”
She added: “We have had steady growth, with December already way above last December. We are seeing a fantastic growth in smaller houses and grower Champagnes. Our customers rely on our advice here and have welcomed the opportunity to try something new. Corks Out has always been strong in Champagne and our range has developed dramatically over the past two years, with a lot more emphasis on the smaller growers, and I think this will improve in 2013.”
Joan Torrents, Enotria director of buying, thinks diversification has been the key and is confident of a quick recovery in the market. “The Champagne market can definitely recover; with the good work the houses are undertaking to better understand the customer, in revitalisation of styles, and in finding reasons to enjoy Champagne at different occasions.
He added: “At Enotria our Champagne sales are growing well; we have recently landed some significant listings for both our agencies, Henriot and Jacquart, and look forward to even more successful times in 2013.”