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Imported Wine Posts Another Decline In The U.S., But High End Shows Promise

May 7, 2015

As domestic wine grows even more dominant amid the record-high California harvests of recent years, imported table wine again lost ground in the U.S. in 2014. The import segment declined by 5.7% to 97.9 million cases, according to Impact Databank. It was the sixth time in seven years that table wine imports contracted. But despite its challenges, the U.S. remains a key destination for most wine exporters, especially given the country’s recent emergence as the number-one wine-consuming nation in the world, at roughly 320 million nine-liter cases.

“The U.S. is number-one by total volume, but with a per-capita consumption of around 12.5 liters, which is very small compared to European standards. So there’s still much room for growth and expansion,” explains Xavier de Eizaguirre, chairman of international wine and spirits exhibition Vinexpo. “On top of everything else, you have a level of income and middle class that has no equivalent in the world in terms of size and buying power.”

Still, most of the import segment’s biggest players have floundered of late. Of the market’s top 10 imported brands, only one advanced by more than 5% in 2014—Italian entry Ruffino, marketed by Constellation Brands. Meanwhile, six brands were on the decline, with The Wine Group’s Chilean label Corbett Canyon (-15%) and Fish Eye from Australia (-10.4%) showing the year’s biggest losses. Overall, the top 10 imported wine brands were down a collective 2.9%.

But imported wine continues to show promise at the high end, with U.S. consumers increasingly eager to move upscale. Wine marketers are encouraging the move upmarket with new offshoots and premium-focused package updates. “People are trading up. They’re drinking better quality wine and prepared to pay more,” argues de Eizaguirre. “And one factor that will help the U.S. now is that the dollar is strengthening. That will make some of the (more expensive imported) wines more accessible.”

A comprehensive report on the U.S. imported wine market appears in the May 1 issue of Impact.

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