Champagne falls flat

Champagne falls flat News Wine News
  • Tuesday 7 November 2000

Champagne houses are facing a sales shortfall of more than 45 million bottles - and it's all the Millennium's fault.

In the wake of over-buying for last year's hugely-hyped celebrations, supermarkets in the UK are still trying to sell their stock. This has resulted in low retail demand and British imports plunging by almost half, according to a report by the Comite Interprofessionel des Vins de Champagne (CIVC).

Daniel Lorson, communications director at the CIVC, says the millennium was vastly over-hyped. 'There was an increase in sales over the festive period last year but only by 2 per cent - way below the 15 -20 per cent increase that was expected.'

Even top Champagne house Laurent-Perrier has endured a 27 per cent stock market drop in a year where 'the bubble has burst', according to Lorson. In the Champagne sector there are up to 40 million bottles unsold. 'Orders of Champagne in general, over the first eight months of this year, were down by 45 million bottles compared with last year.' He adds, 'I am pessimistic for the future of certain producers.'

Supermarket chain Sainsbury's - one of the UK's top five biggest - were forced to offer their own-label Blanc Noir Champagne for half-price at £5.69 (US$8) earlier this year due to Millennium left-overs. Buyer Julian Dyer admits it's a difficult situation. 'Deciding how much Champagne to buy was a great unknown. People bought less than we thought - but at least we didn't run out.' Dyer adds, 'In isolation, 1999 was our best year in history, but 2000 will be one of the worst - Champagne houses are being hit the most by the low demand.'

Majestic Wines' Justin Apthorp believes buyers will profit this year. 'Supermarkets made the mistake of assuming their non-Champagne-drinking customers would turn to Champagne for the Millennium.' He adds, 'With offers and promotions at many supermarkets, there is more competition this year to sell Champagne. It will be the best christmas ever for consumers, and one of the worst for suppliers.'

But other houses remain upbeat - and on the lookout for new customers. International suppliers Piper-Heidsieck are keeping up their investment for this year, even forking out half a million pounds (US$750,000) on a seasonal ad campaign. Senior marketing manager Alison Graham says, 'We will be taking every opportunity to find new, Millennium Champagne consumers.'

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