Falling champagne sales to nervous bosses dealt a further blow to Majestic Wines today.
The UK's biggest wine warehouse chain said like-for-like sales slid 2.9 per cent in the 10 weeks to 5 January - compared with 1.2 per cent growth during the run-up to Christmas in 2007.
Chief executive Steve Lewis said: "Sales to businesses, especially of champagne, were down on last year as they continued to rein in their spending."
Demand for champagne was hit as corporate events in the City of London were cut back during the festive season - while businesses' gifts to clients tended to be cheaper still wines rather than bubbly, Mr Lewis said.
"Every business needs to cut costs and be seen to cut costs," he added.
Despite the fall-off in business custom, the group however saw "modest growth" in private sales as it held its own against larger rivals.
"We set up our business to expect a very tough Christmas and we are quite encouraged with the result. Despite fierce competition from supermarkets, sales from private customers came in very well," Mr Lewis said.
Altium Securities analyst David Stoddart said the sales decline matched his forecasts of a 3 per cent fall in sales for Majestic during the second half of the year.
"UK performance is therefore broadly in line with our expectations," he said.
Majestic has 147 outlets in the UK and around 850 staff, selling wines and spirits with a minimum purchase of 12 bottles a time.
Majestic was founded in 1981 with just a single store in Wood Green, north London. The store could only open all day by selling a minimum 12 bottles at a time under the-then licensing regime.
The group was floated on the stock market in 1996 and launched in France in 2001.