French champagne houses toast to record sales expected in 2021

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Champagne sales are expected to mark a record year as stores and restaurants replenish stocks after months of virus-related restrictions and as retail demand increases, an industry body said on Friday.

However, the outlook for the key holiday season of Christmas and New Years is clouded by uncertainty about the recently detected Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Jean-Marie Barillere, co-president of the CIVC Champagne industrial association and president of the UMP Champagne group of brands, told AFP that the sector was targeting sales of 315 million bottles this year, representing a turnover of 5.5 billion euros ( 6.2 billion dollars).

If confirmed, it would surpass the current annual sales record of 5 billion euros, reached in 2019, before Covid arrived.

The sales surge comes after severe spring frosts followed by summer rains wreaked havoc on French vineyards, some of which are forecast to report harvest losses of up to a third during the year.

But champagne must age more than a year, and producers traditionally keep millions of bottles stored in their cellars to ensure a constant supply from one year to the next.

Strong exports, especially to English-speaking countries, were a major factor for the extraordinary year, Barillere said.

“The pandemic has created new consumer habits,” he said. “Everything related to home entertainment is in high demand, including champagne.”

But the prospects for traditional events and restaurant dinners during Christmas and New Years depend on developments from Covid and whether the Omicron chain creates new travel restrictions, curfews or closed closings.

“Two weeks ago I would have told you the outlook for the holiday season was excellent but the new variant has clouded our optimism,” he said.

Now there was a danger of a “terrible disruption” in the plans for the end of the year festivities.

Dozens of countries have reported cases of the Omicron variant, and the World Health Organization has said it could take weeks to determine how dangerous the variant really is. Meanwhile, the EU health agency has warned that the new strand could cause more than half of Covid cases in Europe in the coming months.

(France 24 with AFP)