No cheer for wine or beer

Wine and beer sales remained flat over Christmas, according to Nielsen.

Light wine sales by volume were “pancake flat” in the 12 weeks to Christmas, said analyst Stewart Blunt, while value sales grew 4.4% – which most likely accounts for inflation rather than profit growth. Missing out on the traditional Christmas spike left volumes for the full year down by nearly 2%.

New Zealand, Chile and Italy did better than during the same period in 2009, but the US, South Africa, Germany and Portugal fared worse.

Price promotions dictated sales – but heavy discounting didn’t help Champagne and sparkling wines, which showed small losses on last year despite their low prices.

Fortified wines – which rely heavily on festive sales – felt the squeeze, with value remaining flat overall. Modest growth in port and sherry was offset by heavy declines in vermouth and British fortified wine.

Blunt commented: “Light wines are more often bought in bulk and the rather disappointing performance may be a function of online sales finally making a dent in high street trading.”?Beer volumes grew just 1% over the 12 weeks, with value up 4%, driven by premium lager. Unusually, impulse outperformed the multiple grocers, despite heavyweight promotions on multipack beers.

Spirits brought a bit of cheer into the category, with value growing 8%, driven by Cognac, golden rum, malt whisky and imported whiskey, which all saw double-digit value growth over the festive season.

Nielsen analyst Gavin Humphreys said: “Overall, considering the extreme weather and economic woes, the off-trade can say it had a pretty healthy Christmas period as consumers battled against the elements to get their Christmas cheers.”?Retailers and suppliers contacted by OLN have had a similarly positive attitude to a period in which bad weather in particular affected sales.

Brand Phoenix director Steve Barton said shoppers were more cautious about bulk-buying for Christmas than in previous years, and predicted a reasonably strong January as a result.

“Some of the biggest selling items over Christmas were big televisions. The reason is that, with the economy the way it is, we are going to see the UK consumer getting almost prepared for a year at home, making the at-home theatre enjoyable and plush and nice, which probably bodes well for consumption through the off-trade,” he said. “The challenge this year is not necessarily going to lie in selling volume, it is making the profit on the volume we are selling.”?Majestic’s sales were up 6.4% for the nine weeks of Christmas trading from November 2, 2010 to January 3, 2011. Over the same period, like-for-like UK store sales growth, excluding VAT, was 3.7%.

Waitrose claimed its “best ever” Christmas sales, including 4.4 million drams of whisky in the week before December 25. Online was a strong growth driver, with Waitrose Deliver sales up 45% in December.

Rum firm J Wray & Nephew said stocking and throughput levels were “substantially above those earlier thought likely” and sales of premium golden rums and Cognac had been strong. General manager Diane Edwards said: “Buying patterns have certainly changed over recent years, with the trade being ultra-cautious and generally buying in much later.”