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Italian wine in Britain holds up and is worth £891 million: Prosecco “phenomenon”

Data from the Italian Trade Agency, in the Grandi Marchi del Vino masterclass, staged in London, led by Patrick Schmitt (“The Drinks Business”)
The UK is one of the most important markets for Italian wine

The world’s second-largest wine importer by volume and value (behind the U.S., ed.), with more than 1.6 billion bottles of wine imported in 2023, nearly 200,000 jobs guaranteed throughout the supply chain, thanks in part to the 440 million liters imported in bulk and bottled within the country’s borders, the United Kingdom is a key market for the global wine trade, including the Italian one. So much so that the wines of Italy’s top wineries were given a focus at the One London Wall in the English capital, where an exclusive masterclass was staged to discover the prestigious labels of the Istituto Grandi Marchi (from Folonari to Antinori, from Argiolas to Ca’ del Bosco, from Carpenè Malvolti to Donnafugata, from Jermann to Lungarotti, from Masi to Chiarlo, from Pio Cesare to Tasca d’Almerita, from San Guido to San Leonardo, to Umani Ronchi, among others), all from the 2004 vintage, led by Patrick Schmitt, Master of Wine and editor-in-chief of “The Drinks Business”: an event, organized by Iem of Marina Nedic & Giancarlo Voglino, that confirmed the growing appeal that premium Italian wines enjoy in the world, as much for wine quality as for style and identity. An event that included a walk-around tasting, with the participation of more than 200 trade operators. The institutional event was an opportunity to retrace the journey of Italian premium wines, between the great successes achieved and future prospects, reflecting on the importance of popularizing wine culture. London (a pillar of international markets and among the world’s top hubs for the wine business), can be considered an extraordinary showcase for everything it evokes: style, value, exclusivity.
An event that also marked the renewal of the collaboration between the Grandi Marchi del Vino d’Italia and the Institute of Masters of Wine: a liaison, that began 14 years ago, based on the common sentiment of building an even brighter future for Italian enology, with the culture, territory and consumer education that make up the unmistakable style of tricolor wine and those who tell it at its core.
Returning to the market, as reported by the Italian Trade Agency (Ita), in 2023, the wine and spirits sector recorded a value of 23.7 billion pounds (28 billion euros) in off-trade and on-trade, +3% compared to the pre-pandemic values of four years ago but with sales volumes that decreased by 6% on 2019 and thus dropped to 11,943 thousand hectoliters. The largest share is for off-trade sales with 12.6 billion pounds, including 7.7 billion attributable to wine and 4.9 billion to spirits, while the remaining 11.1 billion pounds comes from on-trade sales, broken down into 7.6 billion for spirits and 3.5 billion for wines.
The drop in volume has been there and can be attributed to a number of factors, including a growing trend of consuming less alcohol, (now a global phenomenon, ed.) with customers paying more as the value of still wine has increased due to changes in excise taxes. This is all without forgetting that the inflation rate of alcohol is double the overall inflation rate due to the increase in excise taxes. However, the sub-category of non-alcoholic/low-alcohol beverages continues to grow, and not surprisingly, in assessing the overall level of on-trade, beer (-1%) and cider (-1%) showed the smallest decline, thanks in part to their lower price, as opposed to champagne (-19%) and ready-to-drink (-19%). Fortified wines (-14%) and spirits (-11%) also declined. Still wine sales volume, on the other hand, fell by 3% and remained stable in terms of value. Despite the recent decline in Champagne, sparkling wines showed marginal growth (+1%), while the non-alcoholic/low-alcoholic beverage category, although with less weight, continued to grow (+27%).
A market, that of the United Kingdom, that is also decidedly important for Italy: wine exports, in the first three months of 2024, saw Great Britain import, from January to March, 170.7 million euros with an encouraging +7.8% in the twelve-month comparison, in a time span that has, instead, seen historical, and still solid, partners such as Germany and France go down. Given limited local production, Britain imports wines from all over the world. In 2023, wines from Italy and New Zealand were the only ones among those from the top ten countries to enjoy volume growth of 5% and 6%, respectively. Wines from the United States experienced the largest decline, 13% in volume compared to a year ago and 32% compared to four years ago. In the last 12 weeks of 2023, wines from Italy, France, and New Zealand recorded the largest volume increases among the top 10 countries of origin for the off-trade, while wines from Spain and South Africa recorded the largest losses.
Looking at the numbers of Italian wine in Britain, in 2023 it reached a value of 753.4 million pounds (equivalent to 891.1 million euros), stable on 2022 (-0.99%), behind only France (1.35 billion pounds). With 236.5 million liters, Italy leads for volumes ahead of Australia (which is, however, leading for still wines), but loses 8.8 % in the 12-month comparison. If we go to "unbundle" the figure in value, still wine, in 2023, touched 391.5 million pounds (463 million euros), on the levels of 2022 (-1%) and far from France, which, in the last year, did better (+4%) than the previous one, with 855.2 million pounds. Down also the quantity in liters (-7.6%) where Italy with 144 million liters is behind only Australia.
For white wines, quantity is down for the most important Italian regions in the U.K. market, but the figure for Veneto stands out as the “lion’s share” with 49.2 million pounds in value (over 58 million euros, +6%) and 22.6 million liters imported (-5.49%). Among reds, Tuscany remains the queen region with 6.2 million liters (-6.84%) or 48.2 million pounds in value (over 57 million euros, +3%). The drop in quantity, as in whites, affects the main regions and, therefore, also Veneto (4.8 million liters, - 5.46%), which, however, grows in value with 21.4 million pounds (+6.2% or 25.4 million euros). Piedmont with 28.4 million pounds (33.6 million euros, -3.7% over 2022) is behind Tuscany in value, while for the quantity of liters (-10%) it is behind Sicily (2.18 million, -6.5%), which grows 2.9% in value (6.3 million pounds or 7.4 million euros). For Prosecco, a truly successful “phenomenon” in Britain, the total import, reported by the Italian Trade Agency, is 415.8 million pounds (491.5 million euros, +6.33%) for 105.8 million liters (-4.33%).
In the United Kingdom, the Italian Trade Agency identifies two types of business operators who import wine from Italy: companies that deal mainly in typical Italian products and companies that deal in wines from multiple countries.
The first group has a strong presence of entrepreneurs of Italian origin and was born and developed in supply services for restaurants in our country. The second group includes English companies that supply international wines to the horeca sector and to large retailers. But the distinction is thinning due to competitive pressure in the on-trade channel, of the generational shift in the control of the major import companies, and of the increasing financialization and managerialization of import-export activities. The Internet and transformations in the logistics/transportation supply chain have driven the growth in Britain of new intermediary figures who buy from Italian manufacturers, with small to medium-sized orders, and sell directly to British consumers, as well as to On-Trade channel outlets.
The majority of wine sales (more than 80%) are through retail outlets (“off-trade”), while the remainder is sold by bars, restaurants and hotels (“on-trade”). For consumer behavior, 95% of consumers regularly resort to buying in large-scale retail outlets. The ongoing increasing disintermediation of the commercial landscape is driving many traditional business operators to enter online trade to increase their customer base and buy directly from producers in Italy as well. New online wine distributors often focus on strong geographic or sector characterization (vintage, organic or collectible wines), and also for importers/wholesalers, as for large-scale retail buyers, the need to have wines that guarantee high rotation and respond quickly to emerging market tastes prevails. Visiting the websites of numerous industry players, reports the Italian Trade Agency again, there is no shortage of Pinot Grigio, Chianti, Pinot Noir, available in different price ranges. And, at the same time, you will increasingly find numerous references from southern Italian regions.

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