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As Port Premiumizes, Aged Tawnies Emerge As The Key Growth Driver

May 3, 2019

While Port volumes have remained stable at around the 400,000-case mark in the U.S. in recent years, premium-and-above expressions are having success as consumers move toward the middle of the pricing ladder—up from standard rubies and tawnies and down from top-tier vintage Ports. Even with the move away from vintage bottlings, premiumization is driving an increase in shipment value, with exports to the U.S. up about 3% to €34.3 million ($38.2m) last year.

“Port in the U.S. is a mature, stable category, but has recently turned to growth, driven by aged tawny Ports,” says Kobrand president and CEO Bob DeRoose. Kobrand imports The Fladgate Partnership’s Fonseca, Taylor Fladgate, Croft, and Krohn brands, and has been working on connecting with consumers in the 25-34-year-old age bracket to expand the category’s audience, including a focus on pairing Port with desserts.

“Ten- and 20-year-old tawnies have, to some extent, replaced vintage Port on-premise owing to their suitability for dessert pairing, their ease of serving, and their longer shelf life once opened,” says Rupert Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates, whose portfolio includes Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, and other brands. Symington adds that the category has shifted somewhat to retail sales recently, including grocery chains. “Port has developed a significant following in the $15-$25 range,” he observes.

Most of the Symington Ports are imported by Premium Port Wine, which is owned by the family. Their Warre’s line, however, is imported by Vineyard Brands, which brought in 38,000 cases in 2018, including top-selling Warre’s Otima 10-year-old tawny. “We see opportunities in both on- and off-premise accounts,” says Gregory Doody, president and CEO of Vineyard Brands.

“The Port business in general is showing steady, 2% annual growth, but within the category, there are encouraging points of light,” says Stephen Brauer, CEO of Evaton, the U.S. arm of Portugal-based wine producer Sogrape Vinhos. “We see robust growth in aged tawny Port, particularly the 10- and 20-year-old tawnies, which restaurateurs and retailers are embracing.” Evaton imports the Offley and Sandeman labels, the latter of which moved over from Pernod Ricard USA in July of last year. From July-December 2018, Evaton imported approximately 29,000 cases of Sandeman, according to Impact Databank.

“There’s growth in vintage, late-bottled vintage (LBV), and colheita Ports (vintage tawnies), as well as in tawnies with an indication of age, and high-quality white Ports,” adds Diego Lo Prete, senior vice president and general manager of Winebow’s MundoVino division, which imports the Wine & Soul and Quinta do Passadouro labels.

Looking ahead, importers are enthusiastic about Port’s prospects in the U.S., particularly in value terms. “I’m quietly bullish,” says Evaton’s Brauer. “We won’t see explosive volume growth, but we could see 6%-7% growth in value.” Along with other importers, Brauer predicts that the widely reported surge in travel to Portugal will positively impact the Port business in the U.S. in the years ahead.

Meanwhile, both Symington and The Fladgate Partnership recently announced that they’ll bottle 2017 vintage Ports, marking a rare second consecutive vintage year—and an opportunity to generate more excitement for the category.—Angel Antin

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