Diageo Great Britain has reported strong growth in off-trade wine & spirits volumes in the countdown to Christmas. 

Diageo GB managing director Benet Slay said that the group has "shifted substantially more volume" so far this year, thanks to earlier discounting by retailers competing for consumers on tighter budgets.

Speaking at an investor conference yesterday (08 December), Slay said that Christmas promotional activity began in October this year, compared to two or three years ago when "most of it came very late".

He said that Diageo GB saw "significant" opportunities for growth in the grocery channel, and that GBP500m (US$739m) could be "unlocked" in spirits alone. A consumer switch from the on- to the off-trade has accelerated this year, according to Diageo.

Slay echoed other industry leaders in calling the UK a "challenging marketplace", however. This, he said, was largely due to long-term decline in ready-to-drink alcopops, duty rises on spirits, the growing spectre of fresh regulations on promotion and selling and also the economic downturn.

Speaking on brand performance, Slay said that Smirnoff volumes were growing 10% year-on-year, compared to vodka market growth of 7%. Gordon's gin was up 7% on a market down 1%. It has been a tougher year for Bells Scotch whisky, which was down 2% by volume, compared to a market down 1%. Pimms was down 17% year-on-year, he said, affected by poor summer weather.

Slay added that wine has taken a larger share of UK business this year, largely driven by Blossom Hill.