Spar UK has bucked the recent trend of falling wine sales in the off-trade. The symbol operator’s wine sales for the first three months of 2009 were up 9.7% year-on-year to £17.8m.

Wine sales have been hit hard by the recession, with sales at c-stores and forecourts down 1% in value and 6% in volume in the 12 months to 21 March, according to Nielsen data. Spar admitted the second half of 2008 was difficult for wine sales but reported a dramatic uplift in the first quarter of 2009.

The sales boost has been helped by the development of Spar’s ‘core range’ to ensure it offered a better selection across a variety of prices, types and regions. Spar has matched the multiples’ three-for-£10 promotions but said there had been a rise in sales of bottles priced at £5 or more.

“We have seen quite a dramatic shift in consumer behaviour over the past year,” said Spar’s licensed trading director, Chris Lewis. “Some dropped out of wine and started buying cider as they started looking for more value. But at the same time people were going out less and drinking at home more and treating themselves a bit more. We have seen some trading up in wine, which debunks the myth that it’s all about entry-level wine.”

Lewis said wines from New Zealand – which offer retailers better value for money as they are bought in sterling and are not affected by the fall in sterling – had trebled. Spar plans to continue to develop its core range and has recruited Laura Jewell to be wine trading controller, starting in May. Jewell previously spent five years as senior wine buyer at Sainsbury's.