Say goodbye to Bollinger: Britain's partygoers are getting a lot more bubbles for their bucks. As spending adjusts to more cost-conscious times, champagne sales are – at best – going flat, while exports of sparkling alternatives such as cava and prosecco are rocketing.
New figures show imports of the budget bubbles from Spain and Italy increased by 37 per cent in the first nine months of 2008 while champagne imports slumped by 4.8 per cent. And figures from market research company AC Nielsen show sales of champagne in supermarkets and off-licences in the 12 months to February 2009 dropped 8 per cent, to £307m. Sparkling wine sales were markedly up and are now only £13m behind, at £294m.
Richard Siddle, editor of Harpers Wines and Spirits, said: "Prosecco and cava are on the up because people are getting wise to the quality and range you can get for less than £10." And Richard Ehrlich, a wine writer, said the recession was driving people into the arms of Spain's famous export. "Cava is the only place bubble-seekers have to run if they want the fizz but are feeling the pinch," he said.
But value for money is not the whole story. Industry insiders think the drink is easier to enjoy and has fewer side effects than champagne. Graham Fortune, UK managing director of the cava brand Freixenet, said the tipple accounts for 55 per cent of all sparkling wine sold in Britain, excluding champagne. "It is an affordable luxury," he said. "It's very easy to drink, doesn't leave you with a dry mouth like champagne and its low acidity means you are unlikely to get a headache from drinking it." Even restaurants are realising that customers are in no mood to splash out on a celebratory drink: one of the trade's main suppliers has seen sales of prosecco and cava climb by more than 35 per cent since last year.
But Andrew Hawes, managing director of Bollinger in the UK and chair of the UK Champagne Agents Association, said the drop in sales, is a temporary blip. "The British have a deep love affair with champagne, and if the past is any way of predicting the future, when things get better, the market will bounce back."