May 17, 2021

Wines from Argentinian, the ready-to-drink (RTD) category, and rosé wine saw huge uplifts in retail sales during UK lockdowns and other restrictions in 2020.

According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association’s latest market report, released on Monday, consumers used the semi-shutdown of the economy, and curbs on social gatherings, to experiment with new tipples to tantalise their taste buds at home.

The WSTA study – which has gathered alcohol sales data from supermarkets, shops, pubs, bars and restaurants – was wide-ranging, and among the main findings were that:

  • sales of wine from Argentina in UK supermarkets and shops grew by a staggering 41% compared to the year before
  • rosé saw an uplift of 22% by volume compared to 2019, with over 113 million bottles sold
  • sales of RTD beverages were up 23% on the previous year, with spending rising to £412 million.

The association’s report covers the 12 months to 26 December 2020 and points to trends that signalled both a consumer search for the unusual and for convenience. Miles Beale chief executive of the WSTA – which represents over 300 companies producing, importing, exporting, transporting and selling wines and spirits in the UK – commented: “Our latest market report is a fascinating insight into what people have been drinking at home during the pandemic. With pubs closed, and the opportunity for fun in short supply, it appears that they have been looking to break up the mundane by exploring new tastes and tipples.


“This has clearly benefited Argentinian wine makers who had been steadily gaining more UK customers in recent years, and made a massive leap in sales last year. Similarly rosé has been on the up, but was given an extra boost in 2020 helped by the warm weather. Interestingly the rosé trend continued during the winter months.”

Just five years ago in 2016, UK wine drinkers bought just under seven million bottles of Argentinian wine. Last year, that figures topped 50 million bottles. At UK supermarket chain Co-op, Argentinian wine had the biggest value growth in 2020, ahead of New Zealand, Chile and Australia, with a year-on-year increase of over 40% in value sales by the end of last year.

Rosé’s a hit with UK consumers

Meanwhile, the 22 million bottles of rosé wine sold in 2016 amounted to less than a fifth of the over 113 million bottles sold last year. Despite the upswing, rosé wine sales are dwarfed by red and white wine. Last year, more than 500 million bottles of white wine were sold in shops and supermarkets while red wines topped 430 million bottles.


Joe Turner, category manager for wine at Co-op, said: “Looking at last year, the closure of the hospitality industry naturally impacted supermarket sales as customers looked to recreate their favourite tipples at home. The sun was shining for the early part of lockdown, so we saw sales of rosé wine consistently increase. Over the same period, sales of premium rosé increased by as much as 186% highlighting that people were happier to spend a bit more on one bottle to make the most of at-home drinking occasions.”

RTD’s double up

On RTD’s explosion in popularity – the category has almost doubled in value in five years – Beale added: “RTDs have been gaining ground at a rapid rate. Last year consumer curiosity and convenience drove a real boom in the variety of mixed drinks cans on the market, with consumers trying out new drink experiences in smaller packaging.”

Globally RTDs have been helped by big and small manufacturers creating more interesting flavours and by investment interest in the sector. Greater competition has also resulted in range increases last year – for example gin and tonics and cocktails in cans, along with the arrival of the US-derived hard seltzer category into UK supermarkets.

While this is great news for wine and spirit makers supplying supermarkets and shops, it wasn’t good news for UK pubs, bars and restaurants. WSTA’s report shows that during 2020, sales of both still wine and spirits in the on-trade were down 60% in volume terms on 2019’s pre-pandemic levels. That is not surprising as the hospitality sector was forced to close for much of last year, and is now re-opening under strict restrictions.

Beale said: “With the hospitality sector once again being able to host people indoors from Monday it will be interesting to see if the new home-drinking preferences creep into consumers’ drinking habits when they are back into their favourite pubs and restaurants.”

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