woman choosing wine wearing mask

Covid-19 and Spanish wine exports: effects on the on and off-trade in key global markets

A cautious return to eating out? 

The “state of the industry” statistics provided by restaurant booking system opentable.com have made sobering reading throughout the pandemic. With restaurants shut, almost no reservations were made through the platform in April. Thankfully, some markets appear to have passed the worst and according to its data, around 60% of the world’s venues that can be booked through its platform have reopened. However, with social distancing measures reducing the number of seats and consumers’ personal finances impacted by the virus, in most markets, reservations continue to be way down on the previous year as the table below shows:

Seated diners from online, phone, and walk-in reservations

opentable booking stats

Source: https://www.opentable.com/state-of-industry

This means that exports of Spanish wines have also fallen by around 20% in volume since the start of 2020. However, while the demand for Spanish wine in many markets such as China has fallen drastically, some markets, such as Germany have actually seen exports rise, although globally, as wine sales have shifted from the on-trade to retail, prices (-9,7%) have fallen faster than volume (-1,1%).

As an international exporter of Spanish wines to countries all over the world, we’ve had a front row seat in terms of the sector’s activity. Here’s a brief summary:


According to DWV data, German wine imports in April 2020 actually increased in volume +0.6% compared to April 2019. However the value of these imports fell dramatically in the same period (-12.5%) reflecting the change from the on-trade to the off-trade and the shift to lower price products in a country that already struggles to convince consumers to pay more than €5 a bottle.

However, there is some good news for Spain as a supplier at the more economical end of the market: the value and volume of wine imports from Spain to Germany in April 2020 rose +4.6% and +8.7% respectively as the country took market share from France, Italy, South Africa and Chile.

Despite restaurants opening with social distancing measures over two months ago, many are still struggling to attract customers, although Toptable’s booking figures are only down slightly on last year’s.


Pubs and restaurants have now opened in England and Northern Island for socially-distanced table service, while pubs and restaurants in Scotland can re-open from 15 July. Wales is yet to confirm dates for the full reopening of restaurants although outdoor areas can open from 13 July.

As the number of diners that can be safely seated in restaurants is limited, the websites of some of the UK’s top chains and Michelin-starred venues crashed as consumers attempted to book tables. Overall bookings through toptable.com continue to be down 60-70% less than last year, although the chancellor’s announcement of a VAT cut to 5% for the hospitality industry and government-funded discounts on restaurant meals booked from Monday to Wednesday throughout August is hoped to give the on-trade a much needed boost.

As for the off-trade, wine is considered a shopping trolley staple in the UK, so supermarket sales actually grew by 20% and ecommerce by 50% since the lockdown – driven mainly by those in the 25-55 year age range – which has gone some way to compensate the loss of the out-of-home channel.



Retail alcohol sales have also been trending strongly in the USA since March, with wine sales up 14% compared to 2019 according to Nielsen, particularly large size formats such as bag-in-box, as have on-line sales. Many consumers, particularly those in the Millennial and Gen X cohorts, say they are increasing their at-home drinking occasions. However, since the majority of sales in the off-trade channels are of national products, premium European wines have really suffered as they are more often sold in dining establishments – where average sales per outlet are down 68% – adding to the woes created by trade tariffs.

So, although the market looks to be static in volume terms for 2020 – with consumers shifting to retail but broadly drinking the same total amount of wine as they did last year – one major importer told us that Covid-19 has wreaked havoc in terms of wine imports; distributors/chains are not taking anything new, and they are downsizing SKUS by at least 20%.



According to figures released by the China Association for Imports and Export of Wine Spirits (CAWS), from January to May 2020, the volume and value of imported wine both declined by over 30%. However, China’s 50 million or so upper-middle class imported wine drinkers – particularly urban Millennials – have continued to drink wine through the lockdown, particularly through online retail, with many even saying that they have increased their per-bottle spend for informal non-food occasions, such as catching up online with friends.

Our contacts in the country report that “normal life” has returned as all venues re-open with safety restrictions, except cinemas. Many people are cutting down on their summer holidays as they try to make up for lost working time.



Although on-trade restrictions have been lifted gradually since the 1st June, with premises now allowed to welcome as many guests can be comfortably contained as long the 1.5 metre distance is maintained, our clients Walraven Sax say that, “In general we see Dutch people can be divided into two groups: one group which is still reluctant to go outside and visit bars and / or restaurants and another group which has embraced the current situation and enjoys the possibilities that come with each reduction in restrictions.”

Sunny weather in June, and the possibility to extend terraces meant that some establishments have been able to welcome back many guests. During lockdown, much of the volume loss in the on-trade shifted to retail, particularly online, and it is expected that this channel will continue to grow.



The comments from Denmark were less positive. Despite being one of the first countries in Europe to restrict the movements of its citizens, and having a very low rate of transmission, Denmark has been slow to ease restrictions in the on-trade. The lack of tourists means that hotels and restaurants, particularly in the Greater Copenhagen area, are really suffering. Horeca sales teams are fighting against pressure for higher discounts as competitors sell at cost for cash flow purposes. A brighter note comes from wine shops, which after a tough few months, have seen sales increase in June.


The future for the global on-trade

Time will tell as to whether the consumers come back to the on-trade in a trickle or a storm, but research by Wine Intelligence suggests that around 60% of consumers expect to go out as much or, in some cases, even more than they did before the crisis. Of course, this will not translate into wine orders for several weeks or months, as many venues will be sitting on considerable stock amassed prior to the lockdown, but it offers a modicum of hope for what lies ahead.