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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 31, 2001

Bubbly sales holding steady

By Theresa Howard
USA Today

The national mood shifted to more subdued holidays this year, but America seems ready to pop a cork to bring in the New Year, if only to put 2001 behind them.

Wine consultant Geno Flores says some customers are opting for less-expensive champagne at Sigel's liquor store in Dallas.

Associated Press

Sales of champagne have held surprisingly steady, a relief for makers who feared their holiday season would go flat. The industry rings up at least 50 percent of U.S. sales in the last two months of the year.

Even as consumers toned down New Year's plans or decided to gather at home, they've been buying the traditional bubbly.

"Classic moments for celebration aren't going to go away," says Bertrand Steip, senior vice president and group director of Moet & Chandon, which markets Moet & Chandon and Dom Perignon. "Family and traditional values are becoming important again."

That's a relief for champagne marketers who have suffered since 1999, when the overhyped new millennium left retailers with substantial unsold inventory. The oversupply lasted into the first half of 2001. Then came the terrorist attacks and recession.

But champagne makers pumped up their holiday marketing and have seen sales rise, even for premium brands. Retail sales for $100-a-bottle Dom Perignon were up 120 percent in November versus the same month last year.

Despite bargain-sensitive consumers, makers also have been able to hold wholesale prices. Many retailers, however, have offered discounts. "People are still looking for a good deal," says Dacotah Sutor, U.S. brand manager for Pommery, where sales are up this year as much as 30 percent, even for its $30 Brut Royal.

How marketers have been pushing to put the sparkle back in sales:

• Working hard at retail. "Now that the overstock is gone, retailers have made a clear choice to focus on brand leaders, and we're benefiting," Steip says. Moet & Chandon, which tallies 70 percent of sales in stores, boosted retail ad spending 15 percent after September to target the at-home market.

• Not dropping the ball. Korbel is a sponsor of the Times Square New Year's celebration, but has been courting the at-home market, too, with a recipe promotion touting fun with champagne as a mixer. Korbel also dusted off an old TV ad to replace a new one pulled for being set in the desert.

• Tending the bar. Some folks will still go out, and Allied Domecq's Champagne Mumm and Champagne Perrier Jouet worked with restaurants on a party promotion linked to the home video release of "Moulin Rouge."

But getting people out is a hard sell this year — even more so in some places. Mumm let The Bubble Lounge in Manhattan's Tribeca area, just north of the World Trade Center site, use its print ads to promote a New Year's party. And the lounge cut admission to $50, including two drinks and appetizers, from the $195 all-inclusive event last year. But the party was just half-reserved by the weekend. Ekamona Gbedobor, special events manager, remained hopeful it would pick up. "Maybe people aren't in such a celebratory mood. But there are people out there who want to put this behind them."