Champagne sales were flat in the first quarter of 2008, marking an end to the strong growth trend of recent years, figures from the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC) have shown.

There was a 10% decline in volumes exported to the US during the period as the impact of the economic crisis across the Atlantic began to kick in, coupled with the dollar's weakness against the euro. This followed a 6.2% dip in US shipments in the whole of last year.

Speaking to just-drinks today (6 May), UMC president, Ghislain de Montgolfier, who also heads the Bollinger Champagne house, admitted that the US market had perhaps dipped more quickly than expected several months ago. US distributors were finding it difficult to cope with an exchange rate of EUR1 for US$1.55-1.60, when sales prices last autumn had been discussed on the basis of EUR1 for USD$1.40.

"However, we have every faith in the US market's capacity to bounce back in the short-term and things could well look brighter from the first quarter 2009 onwards," de Montgolfier added.

He played down any talk of demand for Champagne tailing off globally.  "If we look at the euro zone and emerging markets for Champagne such as Russia and China and also Japan and the UK, the picture remains very positive.

"Growth may have been zero during the first quarter but let's not forget that 2007 was a record year," de Montgolfier added. "As things stand currently, we expect 2008 to be down only slightly on last year with possibly a few million bottles less sold.

"This year we're likely to see greater market stability and more reasonable growth. Records cannot be broken every year."