The success of supermarket "exclusive label" Champagnes has helped to pull the overall market out of a two-year slump.

Brits drunk five million more bottles of bubbly last year than in 2009, according to the latest Champagne Bureau figures, with shipments to Britain increasing by 16.3% to 35.5 million bottles in 2010. Shipments had dropped 15% in the previous 12-month period.

Much of the off-trade growth has been driven by supermarket promotional activity, with off-trade volume sales rising 6% and value up 3% to £332m [Nielsen MAT 19 February 2011]. The average price of a 75cl bottle of Champagne was £18.11 last year, which is a drop of 4% on 2009 [Nielsen].

Reduced consumer confidence and hikes in the price of grandes marques meant consumers had increasingly been seeking good value for what was clearly becoming a more everyday treat, said Sainsbury's buyer David Peek. Off-trade growth in the UK had been driven by 'exclusive label' Champagne and not the well-known brands from major Champagne houses, he added.

"Etienne Dumont, for example, which is exclusive to Sainsbury's, sold more volume in total UK off-trade in 2010 than Moët & Chandon."

However, the latest Champagne Bureau figures (which include the on-trade) should only be approached with "cautious optimism", according to Andrew Hawes, chairman of the UK Champagne Agents' Association. This year was unlikely to be another year of 16% growth in the market, he warned.

"It does indicate that we are seeing some green shoots of recovery," said Hawes. "The top end has been strong. But it's only when we see things start to pick up in the middle tier of the market that we can say we're on the road to recovery."

Brands were still essential for retailers, said Lanson International UK MD Paul Beavis. "In a time of economic uncertainty they provide customers with the reassurance of quality they seek."