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Top Selling Varietals and Countries in the UK On-premise Sector


Insights into the UK on-premise sector – its top wine selling countries and varietals

By Alistair

The UK on-trade is still one of the most vibrant and dynamic sectors for wine sales, but what are the top-selling countries and varietals?

  • Sparkling Wines Growth

In the last few years, the UK's most, astonishing growth has been of Prosecco sales.

IWSR statistics show that still wine sales are dwindling, at the expense of Champagne and Sparkling. This latter category grew total on-trade from 16% to 20% value share 10% to 12% by volume according to WSTA/Nielsen in 2018.

The dominant selling sparkling wines are Prosecco and Champagne. In the premium, on-trade market Prosecco’s volume at 2.2million bottles, is now double, that of Champagne, although the value of those sales is a mere 40% of its more historic French fizz producer. Champagne continues to offer value to the appropriate stockists as average bottle prices increased by a stunning 26% over the course of 5 years, according to premium on-trade trader Liberty Wines and CGA research.

Champagne has lost 12.5% in volume and 10.7% in value according to CGA Strategy and is worth £370M in 2017. Hotels are the biggest segment for Champagne, with food-led pubs driving any growth.

A leading on-trade magazine, The Morning Advertiser (TMA), published its 2019 Drinks List including its 2018 top 10 sellers of which 8 declined in sales. Moët and Chandon Brut Imperial was second with nearly 112,000 cases, and sales of £77m, dropping by over 11% year-on-year, thus symbolising the scale and direction of the UK on-trade wine sales.

In the same list, 2 Prosecco brands made sales of nearly 180,000 cases, however with very different growth rates, suggesting that the Prosecco bubble is less effervescent than in previous years. Further, it proposes that there is now cannibalisation of brands in the market. Brand owners beware, ensure that your strategy is one of brand differentiation and development, not category driving.

  • Overall Market

It belies the story of the UK on-trade, if you take the volume at face value and stock the 80% that sell in quantity, then as an outlet, the sales value and profit will miss out. Furthermore, the opportunity to score more highly with consumers and become renowned for quality is gained by offering a range and personality. If an outlet seeks to capture greater engagement then it needs to embrace both what consumers are prepared to buy in volume and what they are prepared to trade-up to.

The overall UK on-trade alcohol consumption declined by 2% in 2018, as lifestyle choices make a distinct impact on consumers bar and restaurant drink purchases. And yet the average spends per bottle increased in the premium on-trade by 9%. Premium on-trade is defined by Liberty Wines and analyst CGA as the top 5%, nearly 6,000 outlets, of the UK's on-trade, which spans restaurants, bars, gastro-pubs and hotels. The UK consists of a total of around 120,000 licenced on-trade outlets.

  • White Wines

White wines took 55% of the market share in volume, whilst only 52% in value in 2017. In white still wines the trio of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc continue to dominate sales-driving their increased share between 2013 and 2017 from 61% to 67% in the premium on-trade according to a CGA /Liberty Wines report.

This still leaves a whopping 33% of sales of other varieties, including Riesling, Cortese (Gavi), Viognier, Albarino and Gruner Veltliner, to name a few of the hundreds that there are.

The Morning Advertiser sales reported that Pinot Grigio was the most popular white wine with nearly 180,000 cases of sales, £21.1M of revenue and differing fortunes of the two brands which made up these figures. This clearly demonstrates the popularity of Pinot Grigio as a style of wine.

However, the UK’s most popular variety, Sauvignon Blanc, chosen by 41% of drinkers in the YouGov survey (Aug ’19) didn’t feature in the TMA top 10 styles of the on-trade. This perhaps demonstrates the more personal selection required by drinkers of this style, and therefore the different branding required across many outlets.

Oaked chardonnay, much maligned by the now largely silent Anything But Chardonnay movement is still enjoyed by 17% of all UK drinkers according to YouGov.

  • Red Wines

In red wines, the selection is more diverse.

Merlot is the leader in reds with Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon & Shiraz are the top-selling reds. This was further backed up by TMA which showed that Merlot sales were more than Pinot Grigio. This softer, plumier variety nearly topped 200,000 cases of sales across two variants.

The YouGov survey pointed to 40% of Brits preferring fuller-bodied styles of reds such as Malbec and Shiraz, however neither of these styles featured in TMA list

  • Rose Wines

Although there is little data available for rose wines in the -on-trade, perhaps signifying its total segment size, there are indicators that the old guard of White Zinfandel is fading. The TMA list showed a brand of White Zinfandel dropping by a massive 18.7% in volume and 16.3% in value, far ahead of the market. At the same time the emergence of the ‘Provence’ style pale pink rose, along with its celebrity chateau owners, Brad Pitt et al, are cropping up in many premium licenced outlets with 37% share of sales compared to 15% in the overall on-trade wine category.

At the same time, we should not be so quick to damn White Zinfandel. 22% of drinkers like the style according to YouGov in August 2019.

  • Top Selling Countries

Not unsurprisingly Europe dominates the supply of premium on-trade outlets making up 30% of all supply and sales. Top-selling wine countries are France and Italy selling nearly 30% each of sales, followed by Spain and Australia with 8%.

Interestingly JD Wetherspoons, the high profile Brexit supporting pub chain with nearly 1,000 outlets has stopped sourcing all European wines. It reports little difference in sales, perhaps indicating the way things may go in the future.


Premium is where the market is at for wine in the UK on-trade. Although just being premium is not likely to be enough or be successful. The overall statistics show declines across volume and value, so targeting segments and particular styles of outlets is critical to success. Working with the right distributors is crucial in defining the routes to take. In the mass markets of casual dining chains, then having the staple varietals is key, however, there are plenty that are looking for the different styles which differentiate their establishment’s propositions.

About the Author

Alistair MorrellThe article is contributed by Alistair Morrell, Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors and buyers.

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