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News - 13.10.09

Wine Imports: The Little Engine that Could

The story of wine imports can be summed up in a David vs Goliath type scenario. Large, established wine countries are facing pushback in the recession, which coincidentally has benefited emerging and/or revamped countries.

The story of wine imports can be summed up in a David vs Goliath type scenario.  Large, established wine countries are facing pushback in the recession, which coincidentally has benefited emerging and/or revamped countries. The latest IRI food, drug and c-store scan data in the four weeks to Sept 6 shows us that the big three - Australia, Italy and France - are losing share, while some new world producers like Argentina, New Zealand and Spain are gaining share.  Although they may not be total underdogs, they are certainly less established than other importers and have managed to take advantage of pricing and marketing gaps left by those countries. 
THE BIG THREE. Out of the big three imports Australia was the biggest loser in dollar sales, although not by much, while France lost in volume. Australian dollar sales were down -3.8%, Italy was down -3.7% and France declined -3.5%.  Volume was a different story. French case sales declined -5.2%, while Italy declined -4.7% and Australia was down only -2%. Germany also took a hit in volume (-0.9%) but we should note that they grew 3.4% in dollar sales.
importaciónNow let's take a look at pricing. The average price per 750ml bottle of Australian wine declined -2% to $6.42 in the month, according to IRI. Australia was the only importer to decrease prices across the board which may explain why it did better in volume.  But it leads us to wonder. If Australian wines are priced in the sweet spot, why are they losing momentum in the US as a whole? The thing to remember about Australian wines is although they are technically "down" in numbers, they're still generating millions in dollar sales and volume.  We spoke with Wine Australia's James Gosper who told us: "We're still growing and our strategic outlook has been very smart in the past few months...we're a tenacious bunch." [Ed. Note: Full interview coming soon.]
Meanwhile, France, Italy and Germany all raised their prices. France raised prices 1.8% in the four weeks to $9.56 a 750ml bottle, and Italian wine producers on average raised their prices 1.1% to $7.78. Germany's inconsistency in dollar sales and volume that we noted above could stem from its 4.4% price increase to $8.81 a bottle. 
importaciónThe only other countries to take more pricing than Germany were Argentina, South Africa and Portugal, which brings us to the next category: other imports that didn't do too hot. South African producers raised prices 5.9% per bottle to an average price of $8.33. Dollar sales declined -22.3% and volume dropped -26.6%. Portugal went a step further and raised its prices 6% to $7.22, leading dollar sales to drop -8.4% and volume declined -13.6%.
EMERGING CONTENDERS. It's not as though wines from New Zealand, Argentina and Chile are new to the US but they're certainly making big inroads in the recession. In the four weeks, dollar sales of Argentinean wines were up an astonishing 57.4% from the same period last year, while volumes grew 45%. The second fastest growing country was Spain. Although it's technically an "old world" wine country, it's made vast improvements in recent years and certainly made a bigger name for itself in the US. Dollar sales of Spanish wines rose 15.5% and volumes gained 21%.  New Zealand is still chugging along with sales up 15.3% and volume rising 15%. Chile was the fourth growing importer in the period although it was far behind the ones we just mentioned.  Sales grew 3.6% and volumes grew 1.9%.
Argentineans took the biggest price increase of all importers (and domestics for that matter) but can you blame them?  They're on fire right now. On average, prices were raised 8.6% to $8.42 a bottle.  Spanish producers actually dropped prices -4.6% to $8.35, perhaps partly in response to the stronger euro. New Zealand producers took only a small price increase, up 0.2% in the four weeks to $12.13. Lastly, Chile implemented an average price increase of 1.7% to $6.06 a bottle.
importaciónSUPER-PREMIUMS PROMPT GROWTH. Importers as a whole are seeing the most growth come from the $11-$15 and $15-$20 price ranges, according to IRI. The categories to take the biggest hits were wines priced $5-$8 and $8-$11.
Australian importers were really getting hurt in wines priced $5-$15 although this used to be a sweet spot for them. Instead, US consumers are trading down to wines priced in the $3-$5 category, which is seeing dollar sales rise 15.7% and volumes up 15.5%. Pricing is down dramatically for wines $11-$14 (-5% to an average $12.10 a bottle) and $15-$20 (-7.5% to an average $15.79 a bottle). However, this seems to have benefited the latter because wines $15-$20 grew 20.3% in dollar sales 30.1% in volume.
France is down in almost every price category aside from boxed wines priced $2 and above.  They've continued taking price increases in the US aside from wines priced between $11-$15, where importers decreased prices by -4.7%.
Italian wines also saw declines in most of their price segments other than those in the above $20 range, perhaps due to a nice price decrease of -3.8%. Dollar sales were relatively flat in the $11-$15 price range although volumes were down -3.4%. There was slight growth in dollar sales from Italian wines between $3-$5 but volumes declined -2.7%.
Argentina posted growth in all its price categories except from its boxed wine segment.  The $11-$15 range was doing particularly well, followed by $15-$20 and $20+.  The largest price increase came above $20, up an average 12.3% to $25.91 per 750 ml bottle. 
importaciónSpanish table wines saw growth in pockets. Their cheapest wines priced $3-$5 leapt 58.7% in sales and 58.5% in volume, but large growth also came from wines priced above $20.  Dollar sales in that price group grew 57% and volume was up a staggering 237.1%. Spain also decreased prices on wines in the $20+ category by -53.4%.  Super-premium wines priced $11-$15 grew 15.5% in dollar sales and 16% in volume. Spain's only decline came from wines priced $15-$20, where dollar sales were down -16.2% and volumes declined -2%. They also took a price cut of -14.6% to an average $13.07 a 750 ml bottle. 
New Zealand wines posted the most growth in the $5-$8 price range, followed by wines in the $11-$20+ group where importers also lowered prices. However, all price categories were in the black. 
And finally, Chilean wines are seeing the most growth from wines priced $11-$15. Wines above $15, however, aren't doing so hot and importers are taking price cuts to help compensate.
A LOOK AT THE BRANDS. Yellow Tail (imported by WJ Deutsch) was doing quite well in August with sales up 2.1% and volumes up 4.4%. Interestingly, its Reserve brand declined -17.4% in sales and volume, respectively. Lindemans (imported by Foster's), however, is another story. Dollar sales declined -5% and volume was down -4.7%. Black Swan (Gallo) did well, growing 2.5% and 8.5% in sales and volume, respectively. Jacob's Creek (Pernod) declined -3% in sales but grew 0.3% in volume which suggests a price decrease to us. Little Penguin (Foster's) saw sales drop -3.4% and volume decline -3.7%. Alice White (Constellation) was down a whopping -26.5% in sales and -28.6% in volume.
Italy's big brand Cavit (Palm Bay) took a hit in dollar sales (-6.7%) and volume (-5.7%). Bella Sera (Gallo), meanwhile, grew 4.3% and 4.8% in sales and volume, respectively. Riunite (VB Imports) also met with similar success. Ecco Domani (Gallo) saw sales drop -5.4% and volumes decline -6.8%. Santa Margherita (Terlato) grew 2.7% in sales and 7.4% in volume. Lastly, Bolla (VB Imports) was down a whopping -21.7% in sales and -24.6% in volume.
New Zealand's Nobilo (Constellation) brand declined -6.4% in sales and -10% in volume.  Monkey Bay (Constellation), however, grew 11.6% in sales and 10.2% in volume.
One of the major German brands, Schmitt Sohne, did well with 4% dollar growth and 2% volume gains, while Chile's big brand Concha y Toro grew 6.6% in dollar sales and 5.6% in volume.  Lastly, France's Louis Jadot brand declined -2.1% in sales and grew 2.6% in volume.  Red Bicyclette declined -0.1% in sales and -3.4% in volume.

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