Champagne has certainly seen less market share in favour of Prosecco lately, but what’s stopping outlets offering a more premium fizz by the glass? Here we look at the facts, the figures, the success stories and give a few tips on how to uncork profit whilst your customers enjoy premium bubbles.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last few years you cannot fail to have noticed that Prosecco has become the buzz, or should that be “fizz” word. With sales of wine in the on-trade generally in decline, it is the popularity of Prosecco that is bucking the trend and keeping figures positive. But has this been at the expense of Champagne and other high-end sparkling wines? And what can we do to encourage customers to spend a little bit extra for a more premium product?
At St Austell Wines our Champagne sales over the last 5 years has seen a steady increase of 5.9%. Compare this, however, to the staggering rise of Prosecco showing growth over the same period of 829%! Customers are clearly enjoying sparkling wine so the questions must be asked;
- Is it purely down to price?
- What about quality?
- Is it the flavour?
Let’s start with that final question. Flavour.
True, Prosecco has a much lighter, fresher profile which some people find easier to drink than those sparkling wines made by the Traditional Method. But many customers are now looking for wines they can enjoy with food and so a richer, more flavoursome style of bubbles may be better suited.
Tim Hore of the Victoria Inn, Salcombe thinks that it may be about perception too;
“Champagne has so often been viewed as a special occasion wine; we must have a reason to drink it. We have seen here that when we offer Joseph Perrier Champagne by the glass as an accompaniment to food, especially seafood, guests relish the experience time after time”
So why does Traditional Method sparkling wine, including Champagne and English Sparkling wine, have that elevated flavour profile? It’s all in the way it’s made and by explaining this, will also help towards answering our price and quality questions too.
All sparkling wine is made by second fermentation. A base wine has sugar and yeast added to it under sealed conditions. As the yeast eats the sugar, carbon dioxide is produced as a bi-product but because the fermentation vessel is sealed it absorbs into the liquid. When you pour the wine out of the bottle, the CO2 bubbles form in the glass.
For Prosecco this process happens in a large pressurised tank and has to use the Glera grape variety and must be from Italy. Legally it can be produced anywhere in Italy but the best are from Veneto and the towns of Valdobiadene, Conegliano and Asolo. Once the second fermentation has occurred the now sparkling wine is transferred into bottles under pressure and sealed with a cork. The result is a light, fresh, floral wine, easy-drinking and relatively cheap to produce.
The Traditional Method is a lot more time consuming and costly as everything occurs in the same bottle. Once the yeast has done its job rather than removing it straightaway, it is left in the bottle. The spent yeast is now called lees and over time, breaks down to add texture and flavour to the wine, a process called autolysis. This is then removed after riddling and a cork inserted. For non vintage Champagne the wine must be left ageing for a minimum of 15 months and that increases to 36 months for vintage Champagne. In reality, this is often longer and the same goes for English sparkling wine; Pebblebed Brut from Topsham in Devon spends four years maturing before release whereas Bollinger Special Cuvée NV Champagne is a minimum of five years.
All of this adds to the quality and price of the final product so let’s look at ways we can encourage customers to choose a more premium sparkly by the glass.
A focused promotional period can work brilliantly as this gives the opportunity to offer real value for money to the customer. Tim at the Victoria Inn has realised customers are happy to pay £6 plus for a glass of red or white wine so offers Joseph Perrier Champagne by the glass for a similar price:
“Yes, we get less GP from it but the physical cash in the till is similar and we generally see customers’ overall spend is greater because they stay for more than just the one.
We started with Champagne Sundays, selling our house Champagne at £5.50 for a 125ml glass. It was so popular we now serve it from 5:30pm Friday until close on Sunday.”
Tim appreciates that there are concerns; keeping enough bottles at the right temperature during busy times, staff having the confidence to upsell from Prosecco, or even white wine, and wastage, but he says these are all surmountable:
“we make sure the fridges are stocked during busy times, and Champagne replaces slower lines, staff are given training on how to offer an upsell to customers and only one bottle is open at a time to reduce wastage. Anything left over gets used in the kitchen for sauces and sorbets”
Creating a sense of luxury is a great way to sell Champagne and English Sparkling wine by the glass too. Matt Palmer, Catering and Marketing Manager for the Holland Group who own Platform 1 in Dartmouth, took advantage of the heritage of the town and its connection to Winston Churchill and Royalty by only offering Pol Roger Champagne (Churchill’s favourite):
“We had a good idea of who our clientele would be so set out our stall as being a premium outlet and made the decision to serve Pol Roger Champagne as the only fizz by the glass. Selling it out at £10.50 for 125ml may seem a lot but people will pay that, and more for a cocktail, so why not a glass of fizz? Here they can enjoy a prestigious, high-end experience that is also a little sip of history.”
Getting staff engaged can also encourage sales of premium sparkling wine by the glass. It may only be during dictated times, as above, but for every Prosecco sale, it’s worth asking the question….
“Would you like to upgrade to English Sparkling Wine/Champagne for just £…….?”
A quick and effective staff training delivered by the St Austell Wines team can empower your staff to sell-up and customers get the feel-good factor from treating themselves.
And that extra £….. does not have to be much more:
Get the cash, not the GP
and you only need add a couple of quid onto a customer’s bill for them to upgrade. The grid below shows some example costings that maintain the amount of cash you’ll receive by offering different options or by offering a reduced price during certain times.
We know the market is there for sparkling wine and it looks like it will continue for the foreseeable future so if you are looking to upgrade your sparkling wine offering the things to consider are:
- Ensure the customer feels they are getting a genuine upgrade
- Premiumise and stick to it, don’t dilute the offering
- Train staff to feel confident when upselling, in service and storage
- Consider timings of when to offer and what to offer
- Take a hit on the GP, get the cash.
Let’s get those corks popping!