The champagne discounting frenzy, which has become a regular feature of the UK off trade since the millennium, shows no sign of letting up. In the latest development the First Quench group has slashed the prices of 50 different champagne lines in a two week promotion running from August 21 to September 4, Giles Fallowfield reports.

Discounts of up to 50% will be given on a broad range of fizz from bottles of non vintage Bonnet Brut priced at just £7.99 to magnums of Krug Grand Cuvée costing £77.50.

The sale does not include the biggest selling non vintage brands, but for champagne devotees there are some serious bargains to be had.

Unlike Sainsbury's and Tesco, which both slashed the prices of main line brands to boost their market share, the objective of the First Quench sale is apparently to reduce the company's large stocks of champagne, some of which date back to the days of Whitbread ownership, although the majority is wine that was bought in especially for the Millennium celebrations.

"It essentially aimed at clearing the decks, freeing up space in our depots and stores by selling off most of the esoteric, little known lines," says First Quench spokesman Jonathan Butt. "We didn't need 140 different champagnes on our list and we wanted this clearout before a new range is established. Because many of these champagnes are specialist lines the majority will be sold off through the Bottoms Up and Wine Rack outlets that stocked them, but Thresher Wine Shops will also be involved offering things like Veuve Clicquot demi-sec," says Butt.

The sale does not include the biggest selling non vintage brands like Lanson, Moet and Veuve Clicquot, but for champagne devotees there are some serious bargains to be had. The best of the bunch is arguably the reduction in the price of the 1994 and 1995 Charles Heidsieck Mis en Cave from £23.99 to £11.99. Magnums of Lanson 1979 vintage fizz will also be available in a few stores for £62.50, as well as half price Krug 1989 (£52.49) and the same vintage of Taittinger's prestige cuvée, Comtes de Champagne, plus Ruinart's Blanc de Blancs from the highly rated '88 and '90 vintages.

While there are only small amounts of these top cuvées available and stocks are likely to disappear quickly, there are decent volumes of Pommery's '91 vintage (half price at £13.99); half bottles of Gosset Rosé (half price at £8.49), Bonnet Brut and Veuve Clicquot demi-sec (down from £26.49 to £18.54). First Quench is funding the discounts, it has had no help from the champagne houses involved.

In the UK off trade, total champagne sales by volume in the year to May/June 2001 were only slightly down, some 4.2% compared with the previous 12 month period, according to the latest AC Nielson figures. Sales by value were however behind by 7%, reflecting the continuing widespread discounting in the off trade.


With all the discounting by the big brands, supermarket own label fizz has suffered

In the May/June bi-month sales by volume were ahead by 15.5% on May/June 2000, and every single brand except Heidsieck Monopole had a better trading period than in March/April bi-month when Sainsbury's and Tesco effectively killed the market with their half price Easter offers (the latter with Heidsieck Monopole).

With the exception of Pommery, LVMH brands among the top 20 are all performing well with Moet, Veuve Clicquot, Mercier and Canard-Duchene all showing MAT and bi-monthly growth. Mumm, Pol Roger and Heidsieck-Monopole are the only brands among the top 20 which are also showing MAT growth. With all the discounting by the big brands, supermarket own label fizz has suffered, showing a 26.6% decline to May/June 2001 with market share dropping to 23.9% compared to 31.2% a year earlier.