Despite dips in sparkling wine sales early in the pandemic, when the world climate may have made consumers hesitant to drink celebratory beverages, the overall sparkling wine and Champagne category has shown steady growth over the past five years. With consumers embracing sparkling wine and Champagne as an everyday beverage option and trading up on higher-end bottles, this bubbly category is an essential one for retailers to stock both now and in the future.

Strong Sparkling Sales, Despite Dips

Year-to-date in 2020, sparkling wine has gained share year-over-year within the wine category on Drizly, currently comprising 17.66 percent of share. However, wine as a whole has lost share to liquor this year, falling from 40.9 percent in 2019 to 38.1 percent in 2020.

This growth for sparkling wine is just the latest for an upward trajectory that has been climbing over the past decade. Much of the sparkling wine boom throughout the 2010s was thanks to Prosecco, which consumers gravitated towards for its easy-drinking flavors and affordability. 

“Suddenly, people felt like sparkling wine was a wine that spoke to them with the increased production of affordable styles like Prosecco,” says Katherine Cole, a wine writer who authored the forthcoming Sparkling Wine Anytime (out in March 2021). “The whole brand identity was changing from an exclusive, glamorous beverage to something very accessible.” The popularity of aperol spritzes and sparkling wine in cans also contributed to this accessible image, as did pét-nat, which seemed more approachable (in a “hipster” way) with its beer bottle-like crown cap.

While Prosecco accounts for more off-premise sales overall than Champagne — according to Nielsen, Prosecco comprised 23 percent of sparkling wine sales while Champagne comprised 19 percent for the 52-week period ending November 14 — on Drizly, Champagne comprises the highest share of sparkling wine sales on Drizly year-to-date: 47.75 percent. Prosecco (28.85 percent share) and American sparkling (10.16 percent share) follow, trailed by Cava, sparkling red wines, and other sparkling wines.

Champagne’s strength in the overall market has increased in recent years; exports to the U.S. have grown by more than five million bottles between 2015 and 2019, according to the Comité Champagne, and Champagne’s share of sparkling wine sales on Drizly has grown 3.51 percentage points since 2016. Over the same time period, American sparkling share has declined 2.92 percentage points. Other incremental share gains were seen by sparkling red wine and Prosecco, while Cava and sparkling rosé have both lost share within the category.

Michelle DeFeo, the president of Laurent-Perrier U.S., notes that while the majority of Champagne is still purchased during the holiday season, more consumers are embracing Champagne year-round. “Our customers buy Laurent-Perrier not just for special occasions, but also for enjoying while on vacation or even just as a special treat for themselves at home,” she says, noting that Q4 comprises 40 percent of Laurent-Perrier business, with the remainder split evenly between the other three quarters.

“I think we’ve done a great job of showing wine lovers that Champagne is a wine that is not just for celebrations, but that it is a perfect pairing for food and for the daily lifestyle,” says Philippe André, the U.S. ambassador for Champagne Charles Heidsieck. “Our wines naturally pair with food.” He adds that the trend of pairing Champagne with simple foods like fried chicken or french fries have helped the category become more approachable.

Concerns arose about the sparkling wine market in the U.S. as the pandemic hit; in March and April, sparkling wine share dropped to 13.17 percent and 14.33 percent of wine sales on Drizly, respectively. However it has made a comeback; by May, sales returned to pre-Covid share levels (18.44 percent of wine sales).

According to Nielsen, off-premise sales of sparkling wine have grown 26.7 percent year-to-date in 2020, and off-premise sales growth of both Champagne and Prosecco has exceeded overall sparkling wine growth (38.7 percent and 33.1 percent, respectively). In recent months, Champagne dollar sales growth has outpaced all other sparkling wine categories; off-premise Champagne sales were up 68.6 percent over the 13-week period ending November 14.

“We’re seeing amazing off-trade depletion and consumer purchase trends as we head into the holidays,” says DeFeo. “That bodes well for shipment recovery early in 2021.” Off-premise business in 2020 has made up for lost on-premise business, and overall Laurent-Perrier sales will be up this year, she notes.

Gifting has been a boon for the sparkling wine category in 2020, particularly during the holiday season. It is the top-gifted category on Drizly, accounting for 27.79 percent of all gift orders in 2020 to date. Sparkling wine gifting has also increased amidst the pandemic as consumers avoid socializing in-person during special occasions and holidays. Gift orders of sparkling wine are up 6.44 percent year-over-year, comprising 22.27 percent of all sparkling wine sales year-to-date.

Drizly’s Most-Gifted Sparkling Wine and Champagne SKUs, 2020

  1. Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label Champagne
  2. Dom Pérignon Vintage Champagne 
  3. Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut Champagne 
  4. Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Gift Box Champagne 
  5. La Marca Prosecco 
  6. Veuve Clicquot Rosé Champagne 
  7. Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Exclusive
  8. Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut Champagne 
  9. Moët & Chandon Impérial Rosé Champagne 
  10. Moët & Chandon Nectar Impérial Champagne 

Which Products are Selling?

Premiumization has taken hold within the sparkling wine and Champagne category in recent years; the average unit price of sparkling wine on Drizly has increased 10.5 percent in 2020. While this has been reflected in high-end categories like Champagne, where average unit price has increased over the same time period, it has also been felt in entry-level categories like Prosecco, which saw a 9.5 percent increase in average price.

In the Champagne category, some of this is attributed to price increases incurred due to higher grape costs, DeFeo notes. But she also adds that consumers have been choosing higher-end Champagnes in recent years. “We’re not seeing as much price sensitivity as in years past,” she says. 

Amidst the pandemic, this premiumization may be due to consumer behavior shifts, like the uptick in gifting through online alcohol platforms. “Customers typically opt for more high end products in the category when sending them as gifts,” says Paquette, noting that the average unit price for gift orders is almost double the average unit price for all orders.

It’s also likely due to the prolonged period of staying at home, which has shifted consumer spending priorities. “We have seen across categories as customers spend more time and occasions at home, they may opt for a more premium option,” says Paquette, “when in past years they celebrated those occasions at on-premise locations.”

“Through this difficult year, higher-end wine has become more accessible and more valuable to people when they are making their purchasing decisions,” says André, who has noticed an uptick in interest in vintage Champagne. 

Consumers are also spending more time researching their Champagnes, seeking out deeper experiences with the brands they are purchasing and realizing the value in exploring and trading up. “We are a little pricier, but we offer a great value,” says André. “We exceed a lot of other wine regions in terms of value per bottle, and we’re putting more dollars in retail shop owners’ hands that way.” 

Though non-vintage brut Champagne is still the biggest driver of Champagne sales in the U.S. — it comprises 69 percent of total imports, according to the Comité Champagne — it’s important to carry a variety of Champagne styles. “Consumers like choices,” says Elise Cordell, the manager of Champagne trade engagement and events at Pernod Ricard USA, which owns Perrier-Jouët, who points to the growing popularity of rosé Champagne and low-dosage options. “There will always be cuvées that dominate the conversation because of visibility, but discovering something new or exploring a current trend is a form of treating yourself.”

Offering options at different price points is important as well. “We know consumers are going to trade up once they start exploring,” says André, “so give them the options to do that. Giving them variety at great value will allow you to upsell.”

Drizly’s Top Champagne SKUs, 2020 

  1. Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label Champagne 
  2. Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut Champagne 
  3. Dom Pérignon Vintage Champagne
  4. Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Gift Box Champagne
  5. Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Exclusive 

Drizly’s Top American Sparkling Wine SKUs, 2020 

  1. Korbel Brut California 
  2. Chandon Brut Sparkling
  3. Mumm Napa Brut Prestige
  4. André Brut
  5. Gruet Brut

Drizly’s Top Prosecco SKUs, 2020

  1. La Marca Prosecco
  2. Mionetto Prosecco Brut 
  3. Ruffino Prosecco DOC Italian Sparkling Wine
  4. Cupcake® Vineyards Prosecco White Wine
  5. 90+ Cellars Prosecco 

High Margins Yield a Sparkling Future

Despite concerns early in the pandemic, it’s clear that sparkling wine is still a category on the rise. According to forecasts from the IWSR, total sparkling wine volume in the U.S. is expected to post growth of 2.3 percent CAGR from 2019 to 2024.

For Champagne specifically, that momentum combined with subcategory’s higher average unit price means that these sparkling wines are essential inventory items. “Champagne is one of the highest dollar profit categories a store can stock,” says DeFeo.

“Even at Champagne’s entry-level prices, working at very thin margins, we show the dollars,” adds André. “This will also open consumers’ to other wines at the same price point because they are probably going to buy a wine of equal or higher price.”

It’s also important to educate retail staff members about Champagne inventory. “Research shows that the top reason a consumer buys a brand of Champagne at the point of purchase is the recommendation of the retailer,” says DeFeo. “Training sales staff to recommend higher margin bottles of Champagne is an excellent way for retailers to grow their business.”

“As we move through Q4 and beyond,” says Paquette, “we should anticipate the share of gift order sales within the sparkling wine category to continue to surge.” This isn’t just for holidays like Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day; sparkling wine gifts are also associated with milestones and celebrations like engagements, birthdays, and anniversaries. Retailers should optimize for these often high-margin sales. “Gift orders are an opportunity to go the extra mile to make the experience special for both the recipient and gift giver with touches like gift bags and gift notes,” says Paquette.

Some retailers have reported shortages among popular Champagne brands in Q4, many of whom scaled back the amount of wines imported earlier in the year and are now facing high demand from consumers. “This presents a good opportunity for retailers to expand their selections to include and highlight lesser-known Champagne producers, many of whom still have plenty of stock,” André says. 

Consider diversifying beyond traditional sparkling wine regions as well; while it depends on the state of EU tariffs, Cole predicts that the U.S. market will see more premium grower-producer sparkling wines from Spain’s Corpinnat producers, wineries in Italy’s Franciacorta, and the sekt producers of Germany and Austria. “I think any successful retailer needs to offer a robust selection of sparkling wines from various regions and consumer brands, as well as some hidden gems to accommodate the ‘explorers,’” says Enore Ceola, the CEO of Freixenet Mionetto USA

In the coming years, André predicts that consumers will want more detail about their Champagnes — where they come from, how they are made, and who is making them. “I’m starting to get those questions now,” he says, “so retailers should have that information ready to go. It will turn into higher sales and more people trading up.”