Increased taxes and an unfavourable exchange rate have caused a recent downturn of around 25% in customers at British wine stores in the channel port of Calais.

Actual figures are not available but many hypermarkets in the Calais area are seeing a drop in British consumers visiting the port on ‘booze cruises’ to stock up on alcohol and cigarettes. About 90% of customers in Tesco Calais are British and their buying power is obvious.

‘We received a rude awakening,’ said Fabien Cnapelynck of Tesco’s in Calais, which employs about 100 people.

‘We are always concerned about a downturn but I am still confident in the market,’ said former Sainsbury’s wine director and present board member of Sainsbury’s/Auchan Calais, Allan Cheesman.

Because the Calais market is worth around £800m, the stores are looking to increase competitivity in order to lure customers across the English Channel.

‘We are working hard on our ranges, their quality and availability,’ said Cnapelynck. He even hinted that Tesco’s could remove some lines in favour of stocking more wine.

The reasons for the drop in customers are numerous and varied, from the growing strength of the euro to the French government’s hike on cigarette taxes last autumn.

Increasingly competitive wine deals in the UK were quoted as an additional reason to keep British customers at home. But this was questioned by one insider, saying that the almost inevitable rise in UK wine tax this year would redress the balance.

Despite the downturn, the one year-old Majestic Wine store in the town, Wine and Beer World, has done well. Although it is a relatively new store and its purely wine and beer market means it is difficult to gauge its progress, Majestic’s Jeremy Palmer is confident.

‘If you’d have told me last year where we’d be now, I would have been very happy indeed,’ he said.

Sainsbury’s celebrates its 10th year in Calais this Easter.

Written by Oliver Styles