Brands have been hit hard post-millennium as supermarkets work overtime to shift own-label stocks. And even the vital November/December period is not expected to bring Champagne houses much festive cheer in the UK this year. Giles Fallowfield analyses the figures.

Total champagne sales in the UK off-trade were down 11% in the September/October 2000 bi-month, compared with the same period last year, but the MAT figure is still ahead 19%, in the 12 months to the end of October 2000, according to the latest figures released by AC Nielson.

The MAT figure is buoyed up by the inclusion of the important November/December bi-month at the end of 1999 when sales jumped by 54.7% in the UK off-trade, which led to an MAT growth of 19.2% for the whole of 1999. It also includes Sainsbury's massive sell-off of cheap own-label fizz last Spring. Clearly since then the market has slowed down steadily.

This view is backed up by the most recent Champagne shipments to the UK market which in the 12 months to September 2000 dropped by 48.71%, according to CIVC figures, compared with the previous 12 months. This large fall is understandable given that the previous 12 months (Oct '98-Sept '99) is exactly when the bulk of pre-millennium stock was moved. More revealing is the fact that shipments are also down 22.15% and 17.65% respectively on the 12 months to September 1998 and September 1997.

Within the stats there is clear evidence of the massive overhang of UK Supermarket own-label stocks in 2000, with own-label increasing its market share from 24% to 31.3% (MAT to September/October 2000). At the same time the two biggest selling non-vintage brands Moet & Chandon and Lanson Black Label have both lost share, the former down from 17.1% to 15.2% and the latter falling from 8.9% to 7.3%. Current price promotions by both brands, which see their bottle prices drop below £15 for purchases of six bottles or more with the outlets of the First Quench empire, are an end of year effort to bolster sales.

Other non-vintage brands to have suffered loss of share include Veuve Cliquot (down from 4.6% to 4%); Perrier Jouet (down from 2.7% to 2.4%); Laurent Perrier (2.6% to 2%); Mercier (2.5% to 1.7%) and Bollinger (3.1% to 2%). Curiously the drop in share of the last two brands named, which are at opposite ends of the price spectrum, is explained by shortages of stock. (Although in the case of Mercier this is simply because less wine was made.) Piper Heidsieck and Heidsieck Monopole are the only major brands to buck the trend with share up respectively from 3.8% to 5.1% and from 2.7% to 4.9%.

The MAT growth for the supermarket sector is 37% (although it's down 8% in the September/October bi-month) which is almost exactly the same as the MAT growth figure for the whole of 1999 (+37.3%). Despite all the price promotions the vital November/December bi-month is not expected to match up to last year and the MAT growth looks likely to come down, although perhaps not dramatically until the effect of the Sainsbury's sell-off disappears from the figures.