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2009 Champagne sales better than expected

(First appeared in La Journée Vinicole, edition 208, 25 January 2010)

With the recession in full swing, 2009 was expected to be a disastrous year for sales of Champagne.

Throughout much of the year, those expectations seemed to be confirmed, particularly in export markets.

But as the recession seemed to ease towards the end of the year, final figures are not nearly as catastrophic as initial reports predicted.

With a fall of ‘just’ 12% on 2008, the Champagne industry can actually heave a sigh of relief.

Current forecasts point to a global sales volume in the range of 285–290 million bottles for 2009.

Although figures for December have yet to be collated, the trend at the end of November is much more positive than was expected.

According to the Champagne wine bureau CIVC, sales in 2009 were virtually on a par with 2003 which, it claims “is not really that bad”.

Although annual sales to the end of November are down 12% on 2008, November actually saw the first lift in sales since the beginning of the year.

Growth was recorded both within the EU and outside Europe and over an eleven-month period the domestic market was just 1.2% down on the previous year.

In fact, overall the French market performed relatively well throughout the year, unlike many export markets which saw double-digit declines.

Italy, Japan and the Netherlands, for instance, saw imports of Champagne fall by almost 40% whilst the UK, Belgium and Spain fared only slightly better at -30%, although Germany and Switzerland did perform moderately better.

Like most premium French wines, Champagne fell foul of exchange rates, pushing prices up in countries like the UK and the USA, despite the fact that Champagne producers had striven to maintain prices at previous levels.

The CIVC claims that because of this and other factors, the outlook in export markets is not particularly bright for 2010.

“According to our information, especially in the US market, the market for wines over 20 dollars is non existent at the moment which rules out most Champagnes”.

However, UK retailer Tesco posted a 35% increase in sales of Champagne at the end of last year, so things may pick up in some markets.

Before they do, Champagne is concentrating on managing inventories and reducing supplies.

A harvest agreement reduced available inventories by 40% last year, allowing the industry to “start the year with much lower inventories than was previously the case”.

According to CIVC spokesman Daniel Lorson, the industry has “taken measures providing for around 275 million bottles of Champagne to be produced, significantly less than the amount sold in 2009".

"This will ease the inventory situation and allow us to start the year on a sounder basis,” he said.

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