By Saabira Chaudhuri

Brexit is taking some of the fizz out of Britain's Champagne flutes.

Champagne exports to the U.K. last year dropped 14% in euros and 8.7% in volume after sterling's slide following Britain's vote to leave the European Union pushed up prices of bubbly, according to new data from the trade association Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne.

By contrast, Champagne shipments to the U.S.--the drink's largest export market by value--climbed 4.9% in sales and 6.3% in volume.

Champagne makers expect the U.S., along with China and India, to become an increasingly important market, said Jean-Marie Barillère, co-chairman of the association.

The U.S. is the second-largest market for Champagne exports by volume, behind the U.K., logging sales of just under 22 million bottles for EUR540.1 million ($580.3 million) last year. About 31 million bottles were sold in the U.K., for EUR440.4 million.

Per capita shipments of Champagne in the U.S. are well below those in Europe, leaving Champagne makers convinced there is a long runway for growth. On average, makers shipped just 0.07 of a bottle for every American last year, compared with two bottles for every French citizen, a bottle for every Belgian and half a bottle for every Briton, the association said.

Now, big Champagne makers are sharpening their focus on the U.S. market in an attempt to push pricier offerings.

Pernod Ricard SA in November named athlete Usain Bolt the "chief entertainment officer" for its Champagne brand Maison Mumm, saying Mr. Bolt's long-term goal would be to make Mumm the country's top Champagne. Pernod Ricard's Champagne brands accounted for 4.3% of the global market in 2015, according to Euromonitor, well behind the 24.4% share claimed by rival LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA.

U.S. customers typically are brand-conscious, choosing to buy more expensive Champagnes than their European counterparts. They turn to the drink to mark celebratory occasions rather than for more regular consumption seen in many European markets.

"Champagne is for a celebration day, not for conviviality or relaxation like the evenings you have in Europe," Mr. Barillère said. "There's a lot to do there to raise consumption."

Some restaurants and bars across the U.S. are shifting to serving Champagne in wine glasses rather than flutes, encouraging people to drink the fizzy wine throughout a meal rather than just before or after it, according to Jennifer Hall, a representative for the U.S. Champagne Bureau.Ariel Arce, owner of the Champagne bar Riddling Widow in New York's Greenwich Village, said serving Champagne in wine glasses helps it aerate but also makes it less intimidating.

Ms. Arce keeps costs low at her bar, which fits 16 people, helping her serve lower-price Champagne, at $75 to $90 a bottle.

"It's kind of a scary product for the average consumer because of how expensive it is," Ms. Arce said. "We have small spaces with very little overheads that strip away glitz and glamour that comes with a glass of Champagne and focus on how to make it fun."

The French remain the biggest consumers of Champagne but volumes there declined 2.5% last year as terror attacks in the country kept tourists at bay, Mr. Barillère said. Belgium, another big market, saw volumes drop 9.5% on the back of a rise in import taxes. Overall, Champagne shipments globally dropped 2.1% by volume and 0.6% by value in 2016 from a year earlier.

Write to Saabira Chaudhuri at saabira.chaudhuri@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 20, 2017 11:13 ET (15:13 GMT)

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