Of pricing, supermarkets and reaching the parts others can’t.

Posted on: December 24th, 2012 by Andrew 3 Comments

A Twitter conversation today about,  amongst other things,  the role of supermarkets in the UK wine trade prompted me to think a bit more about our role in the supply chain between producer and consumer.  Its my view that we should try and engage people more in a conversation about wine in general and specific wines in particular.

This is difficult.  Independent Retailers (which we are not – we are wholesalers who do a bit of retail on the side!) have the advantage of dealing face to face with the people who come into their shop.  Thus they can evince information about what they like and dislike,  when the wine is to be drunk etc and offer informed opinion on what they should buy.  So far so good.  But as I have said elsewhere, 80% of all wine sold in this country is sold through the supermarkets.  Not much chance of a conversation there.  Unless you count a shelf talker.  So Independent retailers are only dealing with at most 20% of the populace who buy wine.  Conceivably some will also use supermarkets as well so its not a discrete population.  To some extent this 20% will be self selected by desire to find out a bit more or at least to know that there will be a better choice in an independent.  So the 20% is not the sector we need to target – it’s the 80%

How do we as a trade get to them?  Advertising is not an option, the health nuts wont have it!  Supermarkets themselves have the profit motive as #1 so are unwilling to spend too much on pure generic education about their products. They sell on price.  They also hold quantities of better wines for their more discerning customer and to act as a “shop window”.  But as the average price of a bottle sold is still well under £5 their sales can’t be very significant.  We do our best with tastings, trade events and other consumer jamborees some with more uptake than others (See three wine men for how to pull in the crowds) But these reach a mere fraction of the wine buying public. And generally, they will only buy it if it is a) cheap and b) understandable. Everything else is for the cognoscenti.  Unfortunately, as prices have been forced up rapidly by above inflation duty increases and a collapsing pound, cheap has more and more meant substandard (Blaxland Estate Chardonnay anyone?) and people are understandably moving away from wine.  It’s back to the future.  When I joined the trade in the early eighties, supermarkets sold Don Cortez and Hirondelle. Now they sell Blossom Hill and Hardy’s.  Plus ça change!   Merry Christmas.

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3 Responses

  1. I like to think that we both sell wine and that the supermarkets sell grape based alcopops. Explaining the difference between real wine and industrial alcohol is a full time job! Years ago I registered the Campaign for Real Wine Ltd. After much haranging of the EU I changed tactic and bought a shop to promote real wine.
    We cannot downgrade industrial “wine” because the EU changed the definition to include the words “or concentrated grape pulp” (or some such). This is how brands can be scaleable and bang out 30,000 bottles an hour throughout the year. Back in the day it was not allowed to be called wine, when done in the UK it was “British-Wine”. I think they quietly made this change because otherwise we would not allow most Aussie wine to be sold as such in the UK. They were too chicken to ban it and risk losing sales of EU wines down under. One MEP told me we can’t dictate what things are called. What rot! If I imported Australian camel meat as “beef” they would prevent it. The result is unresticted growth in the new world and EU funded destruction in Europe.
    Sadly there is a generation of drinkers who think they don’t like wine or that it makes them ill. They have never drunk real wine!
    What we can do to diferentiate is to promote “Real Wine”. Its a long and costly process though. People now understand what real ale is but the vast majority drink industrial lager instead. As they say, you can take a horse to water…

    • Andrew says:

      Thanks for the comments, David. I never knew Made Wine as a category had disappeared. When did that happen? So the modern equivalent of QC et al now rule the roost! Its not very surprising. I doubt if anyone outside the trade would even know of the category distinction let alone that the two had become one and what they were drinking was made from concentrate. Nor in the main do they care. Cider has been made and successfully sold in this way for donkey’s years. Like I said in the article, most people just want a cheap drink and money talks.

  2. Council Regulation (EC) No 479/2008 of 29 April 2008, Annex IV added “..or grape must” Subtle change but allows Jacobs Creek, for example, to knock out 30,000 bottles an hour throughout the year as and when required. They couldn’t acheive that with “freshly gathered grapes”

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