Bubbly price wars defended

23 March, 2012

Champagne importers have defended deep discounting on brands in UK supermarkets.

A festive sales battle saw prices per bottle slashed to as low as £10 in Asda, with Sainsbury’s selling Champagnes for as little as £12.99 and Tesco £13.49.

Matt Dickinson, commercial director of Thierry’s, which distributes Nicolas Feuillatte, said: “I would love to say it’s deeply detrimental, but in practice it makes Champagne accessible. 

“Long-term it is probably not great for individual brands, but I don’t think it hurts the category. Is it downgrading the category to bring customers in and say you can get a bottle of fizzy wine for £12, when you can get cava for £6?”

Belinda Stone, marketing manager for Patriarche Wine Agencies, said: “There is still room for it, although I don’t think it is the best long-term strategy. People are now expecting Champagne to be cheap, and if supermarkets stop doing cheap Champagne then consumers will just turn to other sparkling wine categories – if they are not already. 

“I think they see Champagne now as a £10-15 product and those people won’t just then start spending £30 if deep discounting stops. They will buy crémant, Prosecco or cava. 

“We sell a lot of Champagne to supermakets, and if the supermarkets stopped doing big discounts it would affect us considerably. We have a vested interest in them continuing to do it and at the moment the market seems to be driven by volume, so there are crazy deals going on.”

But Cécile Bonnefond, chief executive of Piper-Heidsieck’s new owner EPI, said: “I understand why the off-trade does it, but I think it hurts the image of the category because if you promote very hard at peak season it says that Champagne doesn’t justify its price.”

The Champagne house has just embarked on a new strategy to rebuild its prestige – at the expense of UK volumes if necessary.

Bonnefond said: “Champagne is a very expensive wine to produce. Consumers want Champagne at Christmas and on New Year’s Eve – they don’t need to buy one and get one free, and they don’t need to have 30% off just at the peak season.” 

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