All things considered, the UK wine market has had a good year in 2014 and looks set to keep growing in the year ahead. A new report by Seneca this week shows that 1.4 billion litres of wine were imported into Britain in the year to December – 9.4% higher than in 2013. This is based on official figures released just a few days ago. After taking account of re-exports, that’s the equivalent of over 32 bottles of wine for every adult in the country.
Intriguingly, this year’s growth follows two years of falling wine imports in 2012 and 2013. It also comes despite the fact that real wages – and consumer spending power – have been squeezed even further. Of course, 2014 has been a mixed picture, and some wines have had a difficult time. But the healthy rebound in overall wine imports in the current economic environment is striking. 2014 could mark a major turning point.
So why is the wine market looking relatively strong right now? Here are four trends that our analysis has brought to light: falling French wine prices, the growth in new world bulk wines, growing interest in Prosecco, and a quiet resurgence in German white wine.
French wine prices plummet
One of the main drivers of import growth is price. If we look at the overall value of wine imports, it has actually dropped over the last year – dipping just below £3 billion. To take the most extreme example, a litre of French still wine is now £1 cheaper on average when it reaches Dover. It’s true that French wines have had a particularly challenging year following bad harvests in 2012 and 2013 and consumers shying away from over-priced premium Bordeaux. But import prices have also dropped for most other wines too.
Australian and Californian bulk wines drive down prices
This then begs the next question – why have prices fallen? A number of factors are at play. A weaker euro has certainly made Burgundy, Chianti and German Riesling cheaper to buy in pounds. But an equally big story is the continuing rise in bulk wine from the new world. Bulk wine from Australia and the US combined grew by 100 million litres in 2014, while South African, New Zealand and Chilean bulk have all continued to rise strongly as well.
This continues a trend since 2005 for a shift to bulk transport and bottling in the UK – see a very good article by Jancis Robinson on this. Interestingly, imports of French and Italian bulk wine into Britain fell over the last year.
Prosecco continues its sparkling growth
A year ago, the Seneca team predicted the continued rise of Prosecco and other Italian sparkling wines and they certainly haven’t disappointed – growing a staggering 42% over the last year. The rise of Prosecco reflects increasing interest in sparkling wines by British drinkers, but has also come at the expense of Spanish Cava.
German white wine – the quiet winner
One of the quiet success stories of the last year has been German white wine. Is the message finally getting through to British drinkers that Germany produces some of the finest wine in the world? The Germans are still a long way from repairing their unfair reputation for semi-sweet hock, but there seems to be a steady resurgence. In 2014, German wine imports rose 13% – the fourth consecutive year of growth, and the first time imports have surpassed 70 million litres since 2006. It’s still too early to tell how drinkers will continue to respond, but German whites are certainly a trend worth following now.
I’ll be publishing more articles on the European and international wine markets over the coming weeks, drawing on analysis from Seneca, the London School of Economics and other independent market research. If you’d like to know more, feel free to drop me an email or subscribe to the free newsletter.
For a full analysis of the UK wine market for 2014, and forecasts for 2015 and beyond, you can purchase Seneca’s Trade Monitor for UK Wine by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Trade Monitors for Germany, France, Sweden and other European countries are also available from Seneca. A new series of reports on markets of major wines such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, Barolo, Chianti, Rioja and more will be available in the coming weeks.