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Italian Table Wine Volume Declines In U.S., But Leading Players Perform Well

May 21, 2015

Italy remained the U.S. wine market’s import leader last year, shipping a total of 27.2 million nine-liter cases of table wine. But that performance represented a 1.3% drop from the previous year and the third straight year of decline. On the positive side, the category is tracking with the overall market in showing strength at the high end, and most of Italy’s most prominent players are in growth mode.

The biggest growth star within the Italian category is Ruffino, which hit the million-case mark and earned Impact “Hot Brand” honors on a 12.6% advance in 2014. With a retail price of around $15, Ruffino has benefited from wine’s trading-up trends as well as the U.S. market’s affinity for Italian sparkling and white wines. “The category is premiumizing, led by sparkling wines, primarily Prosecco and Moscato d’Asti, as well as super- and ultra-premium Pinot Grigio,” notes Scott Ehrlich, Constellation’s global marketing director for imports. Within the retail channel, white and sparkling wines now represent about 60% of Italian wine’s dollar sales in the U.S., Ehrlich says. Ruffino is bolstering its high-end stable with the upcoming release of Alauda ($99), a 100% estate-produced Tuscan red blend, in the second half of this year.

Bill Terlato, CEO at Terlato Wine Group, has seen a significant uptrading trend by wine consumers in the on-premise. “Consumers are trading up, choosing quality over quantity. The average by-the-glass (in the on-premise channel) is $10.67 now, so it seems pretty clear they are willing to spend for quality.” Terlato Wines is in the process of extending its Terlato Family Vineyards line with a Pinot Grigio and Friulano from Friuli, both of which will be almost exclusively focused on the on-premise, and will retail for $20 a 750-ml.

Cavit ($8.99 a 750-ml.), the market’s top Italian import by volume, managed a 1% gain to 3.6 million cases last year. “Italian wines under $8 tend to be suffering a bit, but further up in price, the performance improves,” says Marcy Whitman, senior vice president marketing and brand development at Palm Bay International, which imports Cavit. Seeking to shift upmarket, Cavit is now relaunching its higher-end Alta Luna extension ($13.99), and will also unveil a more premium look for the lineup and a new Sauvignon Blanc expression this year.

Meanwhile, MezzaCorona, imported by Prestige Wine, last year hit the million-case mark with a 4.8% volume rise. This year, the brand aims to drive growth with the MezzaCorona rosé, which debuted in February at $8.99 a 750-ml.

The performance of Banfi’s Riunite Classics range illustrates the problems at the lower end of the category. The lineup, which retails at around $5 a 750-ml., was the sole Italian entry within the top 10 to post a decline in 2014, falling to 1.5 million cases—a sharp drop from its level of 2 million cases in 2012.

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