Belgium - the new hub for Italian wine

Out of every 18 bottles of Prosecco sold in the UK last year, at least one was shipped to a British supermarket via Belgium. Meininger's reports on a surprising consequence of Brexit.

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Prosecco with a Belgian Flag
Prosecco with a Belgian Flag

When the UK finally severed ties with the EU on January 31st 2021, as Italian academic and industry commentator Lorenzo Biscontin pointed out in Vinophila, one of the predictions was that British consumers would increasingly look to the New World for their wine – even before the implementation of new free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand.

In fact, however, according to December data from the  OeMV - Observatorio Espanol del Mercado del Vino – UK wine imports from non-EU countries actually dropped between January-October 2021 by 6.8% in value and 14% in volume.

Shipments from the European Union, by contrast, grew, by 16% and 7% respectively. Behind these overall figures, there were some that caught Biscontin’s and other observers’ attention.

Italian wine from Belgium

Exports to Britain of still wine from Belgium grew fourfold compared to the previous year, while those of sparkling wine were seven times larger than in 2019.  

At the heart of these figures lay Italy.

Wines from Tuscany, Piedmont, Trentino Alto Adige and Veneto made up a significant 15% of the €59.8m shipments of still wines, but a positive torrent of Italian sparkling wine flowed from Belgium to the UK. Of the 110,000 hl of fizz, 63,800 hl were DOC Prosecco - 58% of the total, or over 8.5m 75cl bottles. Biscontin calculates that 6% of all the Prosecco sold in the UK was shipped from Belgium.

The explanation for this curious situation appears to be the establishment of distribution hubs and logistic centres on the European mainland by UK supermarket chains as a way to reduce supply-chain delays caused by the additional customs paperwork associated with Brexit.

The Belgian operations may have made life a bit easier for some UK importers but over the first weeks of 2022, truck drivers have still been delayed for up to 10 hours in Calais and Dover as increased paperwork was introduced. Lengthier holdups are expected at the end of September when the European Union’s new Entry/Exit System (EES) comes into effect and UK ferry passengers will undergo biometric checks at the border. Will Belgian and other mainland nations benefit from further moves by UK businesses?

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