Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dimensions and rationalization of Prosecco's market success


Prosecco has headlined a recent Italian usurpation of the traditional French role of sparkling wine market leader.  In seeking to understand the dynamics underlying the Prosecco surge, I begun with an exploration of the Prosecco production areas as well as its production method and styles.  In this post I close the loop by dimensionalizing and rationalizing Prosecco's success.

Prosecco's success has been broad-guaged: (i) production has grown from 5 million bottles in 1970 to 200 million bottles in 2011, a 3900% increase over the period (Ben Cooper, Prosecco leads the sparkling wine charge, justdrinks.com, 9/13/12); (ii) Prosecco shipments from Italy to the US amounted to 750,000 cases in 2009, a 65.5% increase from 2007s 453,000 cases and a major contributor to the 73.5% growth in Italian sparkling wine exports to the US between 2005 and 2010 (Ben O'Donnell, The Italian (Sparkling) Renaissance, winespectator.com, April 4, 2011); (iii) Prosecco volume in the US now stands at 1 million cases and is growing at 35% annually (Shanken News Daily, Prosecco's Current Growth just Scratching the Surface, www.shankennewsdaily.com); and (iv) Prosecco is the number 1 DOC wine in Italy in terms of both volume and value (itwineclub.com).

There is some disagreement as to the mix of domestic consumption and foreign exports (Gambero Rosso pegs domestic consumption at 70% while Italian Wine Club (itwineclub.com) pegs it at 40% and beveragemedia.com shows it as being 60% (Roger Morris, Prosecco's bubble not bursting ..., June 16, 2011)) but there is no disagreement as to the most significant foreign markets for Prosecco: US, Canada, Japan, Russia, Baltic States, Austria, Germany, and Great Britain.  Foreign markets penetration proceeded through Germany, then the UK, followed by expansion to North America, Japan, and South America (Gambero Rosso).

According to O'Donnell, one of the keys to Prosecco's success was the 2008 financial collapse.  He argues that the collapse forced belt-tightening among sparkling wine consumers and an associated search for cheaper alternatives to Champagne and US sparkling wine. With a price of $18 for a bottle of premium DOCG Prosecco, and $35 to $40 for a bottle of Champagne, Prosecco was positioned to take full advantage of the conditions; and it did.

Gambero Rosso characterizes the Prosecco profile as being "fresh and light" with a fruity, floral fragrance and a slim, graceful structure.  Cooper sees Prosecco as being less acidic, having softer bubbles, and having lower alcohol levels than Champagne.  O'Donnell sees Prosecco as being lighter and less yeasty than Champagne.  These characteristics that combine to form the profile of Prosecco makes the wine, according to O'Donnell, appealing to American palates.  For the Germans, it is the touch of sweetness in the Extra Dry version that is enthralling while the British are drawn to the character of the Brut version (Gambero Rosso).

Another key driver of Prosecco's growth is the overall growth in sparkling wine sales in the US, UK, and Australia, a result of the breaking of the linkage between sparkling wine and celebration (Cooper).  In these countries sparkling wine has become an everday drink and this plays right into the hand of Prosecco, the quintessential everyday drink: low in alcohol, light, and affordable.

Finally, Prosecco is a key ingredient (along with Aperol orange liquer and soda) in the Aperol Spritz, an aperitif that originated in Italy in the 19th century (barnonedrinks.com) and is growing in popularity in the major Prosecco markets.  According to italiandishblog.com, this aperitif is a great way to start a meal because it is (i) low in alcohol and (ii) light and refreshing.

And there is no wane in sight.  First, the extra-territorial "imitators" have been cast into disarray by the shrewd strategic move of the Prosecco producers to take their future back into their own hands.  The Prosecco DOC was first awarded in 1969 and was restricted to wines produced in the Conegliano-Valdiobbadene region.  Growers felt that the brand was under attack by "imitators" using just the grape variety and moved to isolate those competitors by changing both the rules and the venue of the game.  Prosecco growers agitated for, and gained regulatory acceptance of: (i) extension of the Prosecco DOC to cover all of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and approximately two-thirds of Veneto; (ii) promotion of the original Prosecco DOC to DOCG status; (iii) changing the name of the source grape from Prosecco to Glera; and (iv) restricting the use of the name Prosecco only to Glera sparkling wines produced within the delimited zones.  The growers felt that these actions would serve to protect their territory, the brand, and the quality of Prosecco.  The regulations authorizing these actions came into law in 2009.

Second, the Managing Director of leading Prosecco player Mionetto USA sees the current sales levels as just scratching the surface (shankennewsdaily.com).  The core consumers of the product are 40- to 50-year-old women and this segment has been lightly penetrated.  Younger drinkers are still experimental but they are trading up to Prosecco from "cheaper Cava."  Deeper penetration of these markets, plus pushing into other market cohorts and demographics, provide plenty of opportunities for this wine in the future.


©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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