Brits put bubbly on ice

Champagne is losing its fizz in Britain with the recession dampening demand for a drink associated with success and excess.

by: Mike Collett-White: Reuters | 24 Mar 2009

But among the hundreds of champagne houses, buyers and tasters sampling varieties great and good at London's Banqueting House there was a sense that people's thirst for France's most famous liquid asset would return before long.

"It is tough this year, no question about it, right across the spectrum," said Charles King of Maisons, Marques & Domaines Ltd which imports the renowned Louis Roederer brand to Britain.

"The middle market is suffering, sales are down against last year but not as far as some people might have thought," he said.

Daniel Lorson, head of communications at industry association CIVC, believed the long-term outlook was more rosy.

"Champagne is the wine of success and celebration. Of course, today there is less to celebrate, but we are ready to bounce back."

British passion
Britain is by far the world's biggest importer, with 36 million bottles shipped in 2008, more than twice the next largest export market, the United States.

Last year's figure represented a 7.8 percent fall on 2007, and the picture could get worse before improving.

"We are cautious because we are aware of what is happening globally, and consumers, even lovers of champagne, think twice in periods of deep depression," said Francoise Peretti, director if the Champagne Bureau representing the French industry in Britain.

According to the bureau, champagne shipments during the last British recession fell by 34 percent in 1992 alone.

Peretti said champagne growers were aware that the less dramatic decline in 2008 was partly because the recession hit Britain hard after September.

But she added that after the last two recessions, consumption started to rise again within 12-18 months.

In order to stem the decline in consumption, Louis Roederer, like other champagne makers, froze prices in 2009, and delegates at the tasting also spoke of price cuts, including in the biggest single market, France.

However bad things get in Britain in 2009 and beyond, many delegates took a long-term view.

"We've been here before – in the early 1990s there was a crisis in champagne and we recovered very strongly and I'm sure we will again," King said.

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