The UK wine market: to be or not to be…..

With only 19.1 litres of wine per head, the UK market is one of the smallest consumers in Europe. Even if it is still growing, the UK market only represents 4.7% of  worldwide consumption, but it is a market which is predicted to continue to expand.

In the UK, around 70% of women drink wine (at least one bottle per month), compared to 62% of men. Women aged  35-55  are drinking mainly white wine, while men aged  45-64  are red wines drinkers. Most wine is drunk at home (80%), usually with dinner. In restaurants, pubs and bars, European wines are the most popular, while at home, New World wines rule.

If European wines are still popular, French wines have lost 12% market share in the UK (12.26 million cases in 2009), while South Africa's share is still growing. French wine is perceived as expensive and old-fashioned by younger consumers, but for connoisseurs it is still thought to offer quality.

Because of the current economic crisis, price is  key, regardless of colour, with the majority of wines in the off-trade (Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda) priced at £3.50-£5. In specialist stores (Waitrose, Nicolas, Majestic) wines are most commonly priced in the £6-£10 bracket, as is the case with wine bought via mail order from companies such as Direct Wines, and The Wine Society, who sell bottles such as Château Liversan, Château de Marsan and Le Grand Chai Bordeaux.

The on-trade market continues to grow, thanks to companies such as Bibendum, Oenotria, Thorman Hunt, Charles Taylor Wines and Liberty Wines. During my last trip to the UK I met Vicki Stephens-Clarkson, wine buyer with Liberty Wines, whose main focus is the on-trade and independent off-trade. Commenting on 2010, she told me: “Liberty Wines has had a very good year, and the company is still showing positive growth in sales of over 20% since last year. Liberty Wines is traditionally an Italian specialist – we represent - some of the iconic names of Italy such as Pieropan, Allegrini, Isole e Olena - and Italy remains strong for us, representing roughly 50% of our sales. However, we have a wide range of wines (around 800 still wines on our list), including a strong French, Australian, and New Zealand portfolio. This is essential to service the needs of our customers, particularly since the trend for customers to consolidate their supply base has increased over the past two years. This has particularly been the case in the on-trade, where many restaurant buyers have scaled down their base to around four or five suppliers, and so the distributor's wine portfolio and customer service need to be excellent if they want to survive.


The general market for France has been tough in recent times, but for us, French sales have grown dramatically, and France is our second producing country after Italy, with approximately 20% share of our sales, and wines such as Château de Fontenille red Bordeaux and white Entre Deux Mers with screw caps are performing well. There is still more work to do, but we've strengthened the range considerably over the past few years, and the results are very encouraging, with more potential to come. Above the £20 mark retail has admittedly been difficult, but in the £6-£10 sector we've had fantastic success with our varietal wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and Picpoul de Pinet in particular) and Côtes du Rhônes, as well as excellent growth for the appellation wines in the £10-£20 sector. During recessionary times, we have seen people turn to the classics, particularly when they are using their disposable income to purchase gifts, or to trade up in a restaurant. This means that Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé sales, for example, have increased significantly, as well as Chianti and Rioja from outside France.

South America will continue to do well both in the general market and for us, although both Chile and Argentina have made their reputation on outstanding value, which will be tested as price rises from the 2010 vintage onwards are implemented. New Zealand is flying, with continued growth of Sauvignon Blanc and some diversification into other varietals. Its average retail price point is higher than any other country, but the general quality is fantastic, and consumers are happy to trade up for wines from this country.”

Pierre Courdurié