Champagne celebrations turn to prosecco in frugal Britain: report

LONDON (Reuters) - More than half of British consumers refuse to spend money unless it is “absolutely necessary” in a weak economy, with prosecco now more likely to mark a special occasion than champagne, according a new consumer trend report released on Friday.

People shop at a supermarket in London February 16, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Global research firm Mintel’s annual “British Lifestyles” report said one day after the country skirted a “triple dip” recession that consumers have made paying their bills and saving for a rainy day their top priorities.

Britain’s Office for National Statistics provided some relief for Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s government on Thursday when it reported that the economy grew faster than expected in the first three months of the year.

But the legacy of a sluggish economy that has flatlined since 2010 appeared clear in a report which showed that the top financial priority for 82 percent of British consumers was just keeping up with their bills.

“British consumers are adjusting to the new economic reality, with financial prudence and savvy shopping already the default for many,” Mintel consumer analyst Ina Mitskavets said in a statement with the report.

Beyond paying the bills, Britons put saving up for rainy days and big ticket purchases as their other top priorities.

British consumers were also working longer hours, taking fewer holidays and more than a third said things have become more difficult in the past year.

In other trends highlighted in the report, more people were cooking and baking from scratch at home and beauty product sales remained strong because it was an affordable way for women to lift their mood, the so-called “lipstick effect.”

In a sign of cooling interest in the high life for ordinary people, value sales of champagne dropped by 32 percent between 2007 and 2012 as drinkers reached for prosecco, cava and other sparkling wines instead when out in bars and restaurants.

“If you are out with all your friends celebrating your birthday you don’t want to lose that celebration moment to pop the cork,” Mintel drinks analyst Chris Wisson said.

“If you can save money while doing it, why wouldn’t you? ... I think that’s the rationalization people have come to.”

Mitskavets said other factors appearing on the horizon included a generation of youngsters who were taking on the parsimony of their parents after formative years spent watching the family struggle with the bills.

“The younger generation are also growing up extremely frugal because they came of age in that age of austerity,” Mitskavets said. “The next generation is going to always have that in the back of their minds. We need to save as much money as possible.”

Reporting by Paul Casciato; editing by Mike Collett-White