Majestic Wine celebrates best festive sales since 1999

Majestic Wine uncorked its best festive sales for a decade yesterday, and put its success down to a new minimum purchase policy.

The wine warehouse retailer also toasted sparkling sales of champagne and upmarket fine wine, as customers shrugged off the economic downturn to enjoy Christmas.

Steve Lewis, the chief executive of Majestic, said he had been "encouraged" by the response to the change in its long-standing minimum purchase policy from 12 bottles of wine to six from September. He added that existing customers were shopping more frequently and that there had been a "substantial" increase in customers trying it for the first time.

The policy has resulted in a small decline in the average transaction value, but a "marked double digit" uplift in volumes. For the nine weeks to 4 January, the 153-store chain's underlying sales were up by 11.7 per cent. This was its best sales for more than two years and the strongest Christmas trading figures since the millennium, when like-for-like sales rose by 20 per cent.

The festive boom at Majestic, which does not operate on the high street, is in stark contrast to Threshers owner First Quench Retailing, the 1,200-store off-licence group that collapsed into administration in October.

Mr Lewis said: "Christmas got off to a good start and it just kept going." Majestic said sales of champagne were up by 11 per cent, sales of fine wine were higher by 30 per cent and online grew by 17 per cent. One of its top-selling fine wines was a £25 bottle of red bordeaux.

Sales to businesses have also rebounded, but this was driven by companies holding their own Christmas parties rather than corporate gifting. Mr Lewis said: "Sales of champagne to business were also up by about 10 per cent – they had been in sharp decline for more than a year. We saw champagne sales start to decline at around the time Lehman Brothers went down [in September 2008]."

Across the business, the retailer's most popular champagne was Veuve Clicquot and its best-selling wine was New Zealand Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Mr Lewis said its busiest day was the Saturday before Christmas, and that it had received a boost from the snow and icy conditions before 25 December, as many people stopped working and went into "Christmas mode". He added: "We saw a lot of couples shopping together in the few days before Christmas."

But Mr Lewis has forecast a challenging year for the sector and the wider economy. "It is going to be very tough for the next 12 months and we have set up the business on this basis," he said. "But we've traded very successfully in the height of a recession."