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Published:  23 July, 2008

By David Williams

Christmas 2003 may have taken a long time to get going but it seems it was worth the wait, with both retailers and suppliers reporting big sales increases over the previous festive period. Majestic was the first off the blocks with its Christmas figures showing like-for-like sales up 7.4% for the eight weeks of Christmas trading from 6 November to 31 December. According to chief executive Tim How, wines from Bordeaux, the Loire, southern France, South Africa, New Zealand and Chile sold particularly well and Champagne and beer sales grew strongly'. Beer and Champagne also fared well at Sainsbury's, along with traditional French and Italian styles. Overall, the number-three multiple was up 10% in volume and value for wine; up 11% in spirits; up 10% in fortified; and up 22% in lager for December 2003 compared to December 2002. We consciously went out to improve availability on things like Sancerre, Chteauneuf-du-Pape and Barolo, which had been a bit of a problem for us in the past,' said Allan Webb, Sainsbury's general manager of beers, wines and spirits. Asda's wine-buying manager Sara Brook and Tesco's PR and product-development manager Helen McGinn also reported sales rises led by Old World classics, with McGinn describing Tesco's performance as fantastic'. Brook, along with Unwins' marketing director Ian McLernon, did, however, stress that trading began very late, with the last Monday and Tuesday before Christmas going with a bang'. On the supply side, First Drinks Brands saw sales of its malt-whisky portfolio rise 13% and its liqueurs by 8%, and Bibendum reported a 40% year-on-year sales rise for its business for the October-to-December quarter. Managing director Dan Jago did, though, add the qualifier that margins remain under pressure in all areas, especially with the continued strength of the euro and the rand'.