Champagne sales return to pre-Millennium levels

Related tags Cent Chardonnay

Sales of Champagne recovered last year to pre-Millennium levels as
stocks were finally sold off and US sales picked up.

The Millennium celebrations at the end of 1999 were seen as a major opportunity for the Champagne industry, and most producers worked overtime to ensure that wholesalers' stocks were high and that supply would meet the expected demand.

The problem was the Millennium celebrations turned out to be something of damp squib for the industry, with sparkling sales predicted by producers instead losing much of their fizz and plunging the Champagne market into three years of declining sales as wholesalers continued to work through the excess stocks they had all bought.

But Champagne producers now have something to celebrate themselves for the first time since the end of the last century - sales of the French sparkling wine increased by 9.5 per cent in volume last year to nearly 288 million bottles, returning to pre-Millennium levels for the first time.

Sales in France itself rose by 6.3 per cent to just under 175 million bottles in 2002, but it was export markets which showed the greatest recovery, with volumes increasing 14.8 per cent to just under 113 million bottles, according to the latest data from the CIVC, the Champagne producers' association.

The UK remained the leading market for Champagne wine, with some 31.7 million bottles sold there in 2002, up 26.7 per cent on 2001. The US - where the CIVC has recently invested heavily in promoting the wine - is the number two market with sales of 18.2 million bottles in 2002, a rise of 33 per cent.

Germany is the number three market, although volumes of 11.4 million bottles dropped by 11.2 per cent during the year. Belgium, where volumes increased 21.1 per cent to just over 9 million bottles, is the fourth largest export market.

In fifth place is Italy (7.95 million bottles, up 13 per cent), while Switzerland is the sixth biggest export market, and the only other leading market to show a decline in sales during 2002 - volumes slid 5.7 per cent to 5.8 million bottles.

Japan, where French wine as a whole has benefited from health-related publicity and where expensive drinks are frequently offered as gifts, showed solid growth, with volumes rising 12.5 per cent to just over 4 million bottles. The Netherlands is in eight place with sales of 2.6 million bottles rising 16.6 per cent.

Spain and Australia round out the top 10 markets, with volumes of 1.99 million and 1.22 million respectively, increases of 9.2 per cent and 37.3 per cent over 2001.

While the recovery had been expected, not least because most of the major players in the industry had already released 2002 sales figures which showed a return to 1998 levels, the industry is much less optimistic about sales this year.

Just this week, there have been calls in the US for a boycott of French goods because of France's anti-war stance, and this could well impact the sparkling wine more than other products. If there is a war in the Gulf, then sales could suffer even more.

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