Fancy a tipple? Boozy Brits turn to wine in a crisis

Gabrielle Pickard photo
Amidst the economical turmoil that is plaguing businesses throughout the UK there is one industry that seems to be unaffected and merrily resisting the recession…

The high streets may be eerily empty, stores may be sorrowfully boarded up, even the cash machines seem reluctantly redundant, but Britain’s wine industry is in full swing and may even reaping the benefits of the economic meltdown as latest figures reveal that Britain has become the world’s largest wine importer.

Based on research by the International Wine and Spirit Record which monitors the sale of alcohol in countries worldwide, Great Britain has over taken the US and Germany in the importation of wine. The study shows that when it comes to buying wine, the British public are defying the recession and spending approximately £3.3 billion on it a year.

Wine Intelligence carried out a survey of 1,000 regular wine drinkers in Britain and concluded that the consumers asked would rather make cut backs on practically all of their household shopping than on wine. More than 60 percent of the respondents believed wine to be of a “low priority” in their quest to save money. According to Brian Howard from Wine Intelligence,

“Since those 23.5 million regular drinkers represent about 95 percent of the population of the value to the industry, it’s reassuring that wine is not going to be the first thing tipped out of the supermarket trolley.”

Furthermore the survey established that wine consumers may even be willing to spend more on “everyday” bottles of wine.

Dr Andy Pearce is a lecturer in the UK and has been a devoted wine drinker for many years. Dr Pearce does his weekly shopping at Tesco supermarket and for the past decade or so has been buying between six and eight bottles of wine a week and he believes his drinking habits have not been altered by the economic downturn in the least. The meticulously astute wine connoisseur says there are three layers to his wine buying habits: Everyday bottles of which he pays between £3 to £4 for, “weekend wine” which he pays approximately £8 for and special occasions which he will splash out on a buy a £20 bottle. Although Dr Pearce admits that as a lecturer he has not really been affected by the recession, as the public sector is less driven by markets and profits than private sector industries. The doctor has however noticed that Tesco is a lot quieter than it used to be. He commented,

“Given the current economic climate the more ”quality“ supermarkets are quieter than they were six months ago. People must be now shopping in ”cheaper“ supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl, although they must be buying some bloody awful wine!”

And it is not just wine the Brits have a thirst for, as the sales of spirits are also on the rise and are predicted to be up by nearly six percent by 2012. Vodka and gin seem to be the spirit drinker’s favorite tipple and are expected to rise by a further 20 percent.

Although it is mainly wine that the people of Britain are reaching for at the end of another day of insecurity and doubt. The company, Vinexpo, which organizes the world’s largest wines and spirits exhibition every two years in Bordeaux, announced that wine sales increased by a staggering 34 percent between 2003 and 2007 and although they have slowed down since the economic slowdown struck, they have continued to grow but at a lower rate. A spokesperson for Vinexpo commented,

“Wine drinking will continue to grow but at a lower rate: perhaps at six percent per year, half of what it has been. The average supermarket basket has two bottles of wine in it and the average purchaser is a mother with two children.”

Whilst strolling through Britain’s aberrantly empty supermarkets, the one item that remains consistent throughout every isle, are the brightly colored “price cut” signs brazenly luring the hesitant shopper to momentarily give in to their newly enforced frugality. The booze isles are also bursting with “money off” offers but seem to the only isles accommodating any action in an otherwise deserted shop. Regardless that the price of wine has risen in the past six months, largely due to escalating production costs and an increase in excise duty, it seems a good old bottle of Sauvignon will be the last thing to be chucked out of the trolley. As when the going gets tough there is nothing quite as comforting as the sound of the “pop” of a cork.

Gabrielle Pickard for RT