Australia may have been built on rum and beer, but times have definitely changed: we’ve become as one of the world’s biggest markets for Champagne. While most of the top 10 export markets for French bubbles experienced double digit sales declines in 2020, Australian sales were up 11.2%.
COVID-19 crushed Champagne’s prospects in many parts of the world, but Australia’s relative freedom from the virus has fuelled our passion for popping. It’s a dramatic turnaround for the category – sales dipped in Australia by 1.8% in 2018, with the slowdown continuing into early 2020 – Endeavour Group reported that Champagne sales were “subdued” in the first half of FY20.
However, the end of initial COVID-19 lockdowns dramatically turned the fortunes of bubbly around, with the trend accelerating in the lead up to Mother’s Day – the first weekend of restrictions being partially lifted in many states.
IRI speculates that it was due to large percentages of the population catching up with family for the first time in weeks, if not months, while restaurants and bars were still closed. As such, on-premise events were replaced with lunch and a bottle of Champagne at home with mum or grandma.
However, Australians continued to purchase sparkling wines as May progressed, in particular premium sparkling and Champagne, at higher than average rates. And our obsession hasn’t slowed since.
Eric Thomson, Marketing Director – Pernod Ricard Winemakers, which includes G.H. Mumm among its brands, said: “The Champagne category has continued to experience significant growth throughout the pandemic, with Australia retaining its position as the number one export market outside Europe for G.H. Mumm.
“Over the last 12 months, Australians have enjoyed G.H. Mumm more than ever, with the brand continuing to grow ahead of the category and maintaining its position as Australia’s favourite Champagne.
“We are seeing people premiumise and treating themselves to smaller luxuries in the place of larger luxuries, such as overseas travel.
“In the lead-up to Mother’s Day, we typically see a lift in Champagne sales as it is a key moment of celebration during the year. In 2020, G.H. Mumm had its biggest Mother’s Day ever, leading the category.”
Scott Bowie, Marketing Director of Moët Hennessy Australia & New Zealand, said it had also seen an increase in sales as Australians sought to make moments together more meaningful.
“Generally speaking, people return to quality brands they love and trust during times of uncertainty and our portfolio offers that,” he explained. “Moët & Chandon is the global champagne leader and an icon for the category, as the most diverse champagne in our portfolio and the brand that enhances special moments.
“Another icon is Veuve Clicquot, a powerful brand with strong roots in innovation and a history of boldness, disrupting with its luxury aesthetics and personality. With the addition of Dom Pérignon, Krug and Ruinart, our portfolio is somewhat a lighthouse in this category.
“We have also found that online shopping has become more relevant than ever before, and consumers are looking for high quality products for meaningful moments at home. Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot in particular, have been very successful in designing offers based around celebratory moments, that are easily accessible to those shopping online.”
Bowie said the week leading up to Mother’s Day is one of the key events on the Champagne and sparkling calendar, with Moët Imperial Rosé and Chandon Rose NV being among the biggest sellers.
“We are finding that in general, most consumers are seeking more meaningful experiences and Mother’s Day presents the perfect opportunity to express that feeling and connect with loved ones, especially during a pandemic and in times of uncertainty,” he said.
“Mother’s Day last year coincided with restrictions in a number of states easing and that weekend in particular, we saw a lot of people using Champagne as a drink to celebrate. Since then, people have a continued a consistently high Champagne consumption with overall sales growing +34.7% in the last 12 months.”
Champagne’s pandemic battle
It’s been a very different story for the rest of the world. With restaurants closed and parties cancelled amid the coronavirus pandemic, industry group Comité Champagne speculated earlier this month that producers may have taken as much as a $1.2 billion sales hit in 2020, noting that global champagne sales dropped by 18% in volume compared to the previous year.
Australia has been one of the few countries that has been a beacon of hope for the Champagne region.
“This difficult year proved very positive for Champagne in certain countries,” noted Comité Champagne in its 2020 report.
“This was particularly true of Australia. Thanks to its excellent handling of the pandemic, the seventh largest Champagne market by both volume and value recorded growth of 11.2% in volume to 8.5 million bottles, equalling the record set in 2017.
“Turnover increased by 11.1% to €126.1 million. This was the biggest growth in 2020 among Champagne’s leading markets.”
In fact, 2020 marked the second best year in the history of Champagne exports to Australia, after 2017. Since 2006,
exports have increased in both volume and value by an average of 7.9% per year, propelling Australia from the tenth to the
seventh biggest Champagne market by value.
Unlike other major markets, such as Japan and the United States, the Australian market favours non-vintage brut Champagnes, which account for 92% of volumes exported to Australia (+2.1 points compared to 2019), up by 13.8%.
Charles Goemaere, Directeur Général of Comité Champagne, added: “The French market, which was already in decline prior to the pandemic, continued to shrink. The United States, the United Kingdom and Japan—the three biggest Champagne export markets—also posted a major drop in sales volumes in 2020. However, this drop in exports was mitigated by the relative resilience of traditional markets in continental Europe.”
However, there are signs of recovery.
Globally, Moët Hennessy reported a 22% rise in Champagne sales for the first three months of 2021 compared with the first quarter of 2020.
“The climate for Champagne has truthfully been a bit of a roller coaster this past year,” said Anne-Sophie Stock, vice president of core bubbles at Moët Hennessy, told Fortune. “At the onset of COVID, there was a drastic dip in sales as people went into lockdown and the future was uncertain; there was perhaps little to celebrate.”
As the pandemic persisted, consumers had more discretionary funds owing to a lack of travel or going out. That fuelled some key drivers that helped sales recover, including the explosion of e-commerce sales, a desire to elevate the at-home entertaining experience with premium drinks and brands, and an influx of new consumers.
Stock said that more than 40% of French Champagne growth was from those who have never consumed the drink before or not for some time.
“Throughout the pandemic, we also saw consumers become their own mixologists, chefs etc,” Stock explained. “They looked to more premium brands, like the Champagne offerings from our portfolio, to create that specialness they would have normally only experienced at the bar or restaurant. This has now become second nature.”
The top 10 export markets for Champagne
- United States (-24.6%)
- United Kingdom (-21.9%)
- Japan (-23.7%)
- Germany (-17.7%)
- Italy (-19.2%)
- Belgium (-4.3%)
- Australia (11.1%)
- China/Hong Kong/Taiwan (0.7%)
- Switzerland (-21.7%)
- Spain (-35.3%)
- Sweden (-0.2%)
Sparkling wine sales also on the rise
In Australia, premium domestic sparkling wine is performing ahead of the total wine category with +19.7% growth (MAT 28/03/21), increasing the share for premium domestic sparkling to 5.4% from 5%.
“We have a range of sparkling brands throughout our portfolio and we have seen all our key sparkling brands in growth including our total House of Arras portfolio, Grant Burge Pinot Noir Chardonnay, Croser Vintage and Yarra Burn,” said Jack Glover, Marketing Director Accolade Wines ANZ.
Another macro trend influenced by our changing lifestyle and consumption occasions is the growth of light and refreshing styles, including domestic prosecco (+19.4%) and sparkling rose varietals (+31.3%) is also driving category growth.
In the lead up to Mother’s Day, those sales numbers have been driven even higher.
“Mothers Day is certainly a key seasonal occasion within the sparkling category,” Glover said.
The consumer favourites within the Accolade Wines portfolio are the Grant Burge Pinot Noir Chardonnay range including Rose, Croser (NV and Vintage), Yarra Burn Vintage and, of course, House of Arras.
“Australians have really embraced sparkling during COVID, more than other regions we have seen and we are sure the celebration of Mothers Day will continue this love for our local sparkling products,” Glover concluded.
Tony Bongiovanni, from Cellarbrations at Gisborne, agrees that whether the bubbles are white or pink, his customers can’t get enough of them. He said Tasmanian sparkling wines are leading the charge in the new post-COVID retail liquor landscape, along with quality prosecco. And customers are prepared to pay a higher price for a decent drop.
“Our figures show it’s goodbye to budget and lower-priced sparkling wines and hello to quality, higher-priced Australian sparkling, prosecco and Champagne,” he said.