Summer is the time to open up wine sales

Wine is almost everybody’s tipple these days, and the lockdown has only deepened the nation’s affections for all things grape.

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Wine is basically four categories: red, white, rosé and fizz. There are infinite subcategories but for shelf-style and sales, keep these in mind – not least because wine is ever-more popular, as the nation continues to train its taste-buds and look for premium experiences.

Alcohol is 20 per cent of sales in independents, and although beer is the biggest-seller, wine is not far behind and fizz is growing at faster-than-market rate, which (although it has been dented by the lockdown) is estimated at 10 per cent a year between 2020 and 2023 [Statista]. As Ben Smith, Corporate Communications at Concha Y Toro points out, alcohol saw major spikes in demand from the middle of March. “Still wine had shown the second greatest growth at 17 per cent (after beer and cider at 26.4 per cent). Convenience saw the biggest gains in wine sales overall – up 43 per cent in Impulse.”

It is not just the lockdown effect. “Still wine has seen value growth of 9.4 per cent and volume growth of 5.5 per cent in the last 12 months in the convenience sector,” says Norbert Jozsa, Head of Category and Insight – Europe, at Accolade Wines.

But fizz first. Wine is a £5.8 billion sector, of which champagne is 0.3 billion – a tiny fraction of the whole – and its sparkling competitors, namely Prosecco, Cava and Asti Spumante, are mounting more of a challenge every year.

According to the International Wines and Spirits Record (IWSR) consumption of fizzy wine, led by Prosecco, will be 16.2 million nine-litre cases by 2022, up from 14.4millionthree years ago. ISWR also found that consumptionof fizz per head over 10 years from 2012 will have gone from 1.8 litres to 2.8 litres.

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As much as fifty per cent growth in a decade might not be explosive, but it is clearly directional. We are simply drinking more of the celebration stuff, to the extent that consumers’ definitions of (or excuses for) celebrations are becoming more relaxed.

In the past the champagne might be uncorked at a wedding; now it might be uncorked on a Saturday. It is a big cultural change that follows a historical one. The bubbles in fizzy wines are carbon dioxide the yeast creates alongside the alcohol as it ferments, and until very strong glass was pioneered in the seventeenth century (by British cider-makers), wine-makers spent all their time trying to make sure bubbles did not get in to their wine. Boom!

Things are very different now.

Uncork the good times

Decades ago Asti Spumante was the bubbly people chose when they were not interested in paying Champagne prices. Asti is in north-west Italy and in the lee (or rain-shadow) of the Italian Alps which, while still sunny, also keeps it temperate enough for bubbles. Like the Champagne region in rainy northern France it is best that the weather is damp and cool for the under-ripened, usually white grapes varieties needed in fizz.

Asti has fallen somewhat out of favour because it is quite sweet; and the public’s palate, as it becomes year by year more educated and knowledgeable about wine, has tended to lose its sweet tooth a bit.

The fashion in Champagnes now is for “extra brut” – as dry as you can get, and the French manufacturers are increasingly perfecting their “zero-sugar” vintages, where every last molecule of sugar is fermented away and the result tastes biscuity, yeasty and utterly bleached-bone dry.

It is a wine of stylish minimalism but with a big punch (apparently the bubbles speed alcohol into the blood – a study found that Champagne-quaffers had alcohol levels 38 per cent higher than drinkers who stuck to still wine, according to champion oenophile Oz Clarke).

Asti remains an exquisite and reasonably-priced cake-and-dessert fizz, or one for those who like their wine a bit sweeter (this tends to mean occasional drinkers). It’s no challenger for Champagne and should be stocked accordingly.

Accolade Wines introduces prosecco to its Echo Falls rangeProsecco, on the other hand, has undergone a rebirth in its own way as fascinating as the gin revolution. On the Continent, especially in Germany, prosecco is a cheap daily sundown tipple, or it was. It used to be sold (in blue glass bottles with a piece of string tied around the neck) for about £3 in Aldi and Lidl, and was barely 8 per cent ABV.

Some time ago, Italy’s prosecco-makers (tucked into Italy’s mountainous north east, near Austria and Slovenia) noted that its informality made it the “everyday” Champagne for many, and started to market the drink accordingly. There were 150 million bottles of Prosecco produced in 2008 but that figure had rocketed up to 600 million in 2018. By then it was Britain, not Germany, that was prosecco’s main export market.

Today there are great-tasting, stronger, and more expensive proseccos everywhere– and they are certainly worth investigating as a chiller staple for customers who want  a bit of excitement when popping a bottle, but don’t think it warrants Champagne expenditure (even if an excellent prosecco is now roughly in the range of a cheap – not necessarily poor) Champagne. And prosecco unlike Asti Spumante is not sweet, either: “secco” means dry, so it does what it says on the can – or the bottle.

Prosecco is a worthy rival for Champagne, then – but the wily Champagne-makers realised this and launched a price-cutting war in about 2015. You probably noticed. They seem to have turned the tables on the upstart somewhat, and prosecco sales fell six per cent in the UK last year, while sales of Champagne were claimed to be up by 30 per cent!

Remember, though, that as MK Vaish of Spar, Offerton, says, “Hardest to sell is premium products because customers have the idea that they will be cheaper in the supermarket. That’s where they’ll go for a bottle of Moët, but they’ll happily spend £10 with me on a bottle of Cava no problem.”

Yes, Cava: the latest challenger for Champagne’s crown. Cava (white or pink) is different to the other fizz varieties in that it is made in Spain, not in a cool region either but in Catalonia, just to the south of Barcelona on the plains where it’s boiling hot.

It used to be marketed as Spanish Champagne but that is no longer allowed by the EU, although in recent years its identity is becoming known abroad in its own right, and the names of two major producers, Codorníu and Freixenet, probably sound familiar.

The fact that Cava defined itself in relation to Champagne denoted that it was an inferior product, and that was indeed the general opinion. Recently, however, more single estate Cavas are being produced, and the ambitions of new winemakers in the region are starting to produce some amazing Cavas that are drier and more refreshing than the slightly cloying examples of not so long ago.

The immediate rival is not Champagne, however: we are probably about to witness the Cava-prosecco wars, and unlike prosecco, Cava is not yet priced at a premium, so again, stock accordingly.

And as a final note on the rising bubbles, keep an eye on the New world, with wines such as Concha y Toro’s Sparkling Brut (white and rosé), grown in Chile’s far south Bio-Bio Valley. It is coastal, too, and faces the icy waters of the southern Pacific whose onshore breezes are perfect for the grapes that make for great fizz.

Summer white, rosé and no-lo

The sheer complexity and daunting variety of the wine world puts off many from attempting to stock anything but the best-selling basics. The dusty bad Bordeaux in the corner of the corner shop used to be sadly standard, but things have improved markedly over the past decade as branded wines have come on in leaps and bounds, promising good prices, quality and consumer satisfaction. Wine used to be a bit of a lottery, or a box of chocolates, in that you never knew whether you would get lucky (not often) or even what you would get. Not anymore.

A good wine collection can be a centre-piece attraction for a retailer as it is for Chris Taylor at Taylor’s of Tickhill (he also stocks a regionally-renowned cheese counter). “For us, the thing that generates our best income is the wine,” he says. “We have a wine area with over 300 different wines. Our specialist in Manchester sources wines from all over the world. We run samplings and customer tastings. We’ll have twelve wines and if people like it, we’ll order it. All the wines on our shelves have gone through that process of customer-testing. People come in saying that they are going to cancel their wine-club subscription and shop here instead.”

You don’t have to dive into the world of wine as deeply as Chris, though. The suppliers and producers are ever more helping a normal shop to offer an irresistible range that will keep customers happy and thirsty for more.

“We know the average time spent in a convenience store is just 4.12 minutes so your Wine category has to be clear and easy to navigate for consumers – stock key brands and origins that will catch the eye of consumers and bring them into the category, says Accolade’s Jozsa. “Products should be tiered by price from the bottom up, with entry level on the bottom and then those priced £6-£9.99 at eye level. Space should be made in the chiller section for key whites and rosé.

“We have seen a huge shift towards brands,” agrees Ben Smith of Concha Y Toro. “It is well-established that shoppers tend to default to brands in times of stress. Our brands Casillero del Diablo, Cono Sur and Trivento from Argentina have also shown very positive growth and we expect that to continue.

Norbert Jozsa

“Sauvignon Blanc has returned as the fastest growing white varietal in the last year,” says Norbert Jozsa. “We have also seen consumers switching from entry level pricing to mid/premium pricing, and this may result in continued benefits for ‘premium’ varietals.”

To segue into still wine from fizz it is best to look first at the whites, because there is an interesting hybridization starting to take place in the shape of wine seltzers, or what we used to call spritzers, in the ready-to-drink (RTD) form.

Treasury Wine Estates, global winemaker and distributor, recently launched a new flavour, Blossom Hill Rhubarb & Plum Spritz. Botanicals in wine are becoming popular and suit the summer months very well, as do bubbles – but without the kick, perhaps, of a full-strength Champagne (it is just 5.5% ABV, with RRP of £4.50).

“The innovative new flavour combination celebrates the union of seasonal fruits, to deliver a wine suited to multiple seasonal occasions. The Spritz style wine can be enjoyed served chilled and over ice in warmer months, or mulled and savoured warm in the winter,” says Ben Blake, Head of Marketing for EMEA at Treasury Wine Estates.

Barefoot White Zinfandel 187mlMeanwhile, E&J Gallo Winery is extending its best-selling Californian wine brand Barefoot, a brand which has grown by 19.2 per centin the past year to £21 million in value. A summer-timed wine seltzer range is being introduced to the UK, and it does exactly what it says on the can, because (another trend that might not be a fad) Barefoot Wine Seltzerscome in a 250ml can as another RTD.

They are a made with sparkling water, white wine and natural fruit flavours. Each 250ml can is 70 calories, only four per cent ABV, and gluten free. Theyarebeing marketed as a premium alternative to beer and a lighter-bodied alternative to wine. The flavours, again, are novel to the world of wine: Pineapple & Passionfruit and Strawberry & Guava.

“Barefoot Wine Seltzers are a fantastic addition to the Barefoot family,” says Olga Senkina, EMEA Marketing Director at E&J Gallo Winery. “The natural flavour combinations coupled with the bright and fun packaging make them the perfect drink for sunny summer days, and the can format is an easy, convenient and sustainable option whatever the occasion, whether it’s a BBQ or a House Party chat with friends.”

Another entrant to the rocketing spritzer/seltzer category is Kingsland Drinks, who have brought out a new canned brand called Vin Crowd. Available to Costcutter and Nisa stores, Vin Crowd has three variants: a White Spritz, Pink Spritz, and a Botanical Spritz – of course.

“Vin Crowd is aimed at drinkers who do not engage or are becoming increasingly disengaged with the wine category. These drinkers have relatively limited wine knowledge and are actively seeking out more contemporary brands which offer new drinking experiences and brand stories that they can personally identify with,” says Andy McIvor, head of marketing and insight at Kingsland.

It looks as though lighter drinking is the melody of the summer, and if that is the case then it is certainly worthwhile looking at the queen of alcohol-free wines: Eisberg.

“We have seen to a high degree that purchases of alcohol-free is incremental to other alcoholic products,” says Andrew Turner, Wine Director at Halewood Wines and Spirits, owner of Eisberg.

“In the early stages of lockdown, data showed the demand for alcoholic beverages increased to levels similar to that seen during Christmas trading. This demand was also reflected across low and no – a trend we expect to see continue as lockdown eases and socialising increases. We also expect to see a shift in consumer behaviour as they look to reduce alcohol intake as part of healthy living but still want to feel included,” he adds.

Eisberg has done a great job of increasing the profile of its bottles, with a focus on promoting the brand consistently across all channels while delivering bespoke customer specific initiatives (such as neck collars and consumer tastings).

“Low and no alcohol drinks provide a great alternative for those wanting to cut back,” Turner emphasises, “even if it’s just a little! There are some great value products as the market continues to expand.  For example, our new Eisberg Merlot offers the same soft, luscious, fruity approachable style but without the alcohol and it’s available for just £3.50.”

Driven by macro consumer trends around moderation, Norbert Jozsa predicts that no-lo products will continue to increase in importance in the future. This will help the Wine category cater for occasions where full strength wine or alcohol in general would not be considered, increasing opportunities to target new consumers .

“Last year, we launched Hardys 0.0 per cent Chardonnay,” he says, “which has been a great success and resonated with those looking for a no alcohol wine option. It has delivered 11.3 per cent YOY volume growth within the latest 12 weeks.”

As we move through the colours and styles of wine from bubbly to still, and from white, through pink to red it is worthwhile noticing how botanicals and spritzer themes are also moving into still wine.

Australian producer Accolade Wines’ Echo Falls is the UK’s number one fruit-flavoured wine brand, worth £68.4 million in a total category valued at £129, saysCaroline Thompson-Hill, European Marketing Director. Echo Falls Botanicals, launched in May, will cater to the current consumer trend in botanicals, driven primarily by gen-Z and millennial audiences.

“It’s important that the brand keeps up-to-date with trends and leads in innovation. The new Botanicals range demonstrates that Echo Falls has listened to its shoppers by bringing a refreshing and innovative style to customers, which also caters to the growing no-lo category driven primarily by younger consumers.’’

Apparently they are demanding fruitier and sweeter wine styles with a lower ABV. (Echo Falls has a sweeter styled Fruit Fusion sub-brand, which combines wine with other fruit flavours in combinations such as strawberry and lime, raspberry and cassis and summer berries). The new Echo Falls main brand wines will be available in two flavours, Melon & Mint and Raspberry & Lavender,with an RRP of £4.50 and listed in Co-op and Nisa.

Black TowerAs we move from whites into the pinks and reds, a notable NPD is famous German wine brand Black Tower’s bottle pack re-design for its Rosé and Fruity White that is an “ethereal, gossamer print, reminiscent of long country walks during the warmer months”, available throughout the summer.

Again the botanicals are in vogue, with tasting notes likening the Rosé to a bowl of strawberries and cream, while the white has hints of fresh pineapple and lime.

Pink is always big when the sun is out. “A burst of good weather enabled rosé to return to growth across all key varietals due to its seasonality appeal. Younger entry level wine drinkers are also likely to be those recreating experiences usually found in the on-trade, such as a glass of rosé in a pub garden,” says Jozsa.

Into the red

Bridging the red and white divide is a new initiative in Spar worth mentioning, where from the end of last month the chain expanded its range with a duo of wines from Spain: a “ripe fruit” red and a “fresh and lively” white. They are competitively-priced, both at less than £5, and provide a trustworthy introduction to consumers seeking quality wine at affordable prices.

The major brands tend to do all the colours – even new world red specialist Concha y Toro has its Cono Sur Bicicleta brand that includes whites (including a Gewürztraminer thanks to cold, wet Bio Bio) in case you thought Pinot Noir was as white as they went.

Dark Horse, the UK’s leading premium US wine brand, sells five bottles every minute in the UK, and over the past twelve months the Californian brand has grown by a third in value. The brand sells itself on innovation and likes to challenge traditional wine stereotypes. Part of this has been driven by Dark Horse Malbec, added to the range (which includes whites, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio – RRP £8.50, and a Dark Horse Rosé – RRP £8) in 2019.

Pernod Ricard market wines as well as spirits and have now made their Spanish Campo Viejo Rioja Tempranillo wine available as a PMP. Anticipating big sales, the company is ensuring additional stock is available to Convenience of this number-one UK best-selling red wine. The brand is currently growing ahead of the Spanish wine category and is leading the charge to restore overall category growth with a bottle featuring a neck sticker with a £7.99 price-mark.

“Consumers are savvy and know the average price of their favourite wines,” explains Chris Shead, Off-Trade Director at Pernod Ricard UK. “With 61 per cent of shoppers believing PMPs offer better value for money, we’re launching one to give consumers the confidence they are being offered good value, help retailers shift more stock and keep shelves rotating: 83 per cent of retailers claim PMPs sell faster in their stores than the equivalent plain packs.”

Talking of packs, the trend towards canned wine is now be found in the red wines section, too. A notable newcomer is from Ehrmanns which launched its Beefsteak Club Mendoza Malbec (one of the top five bestselling Argentinean Malbec brands in the UK) in 250ml wine cans last month.

“Cans are a liberating and unpretentious format, which we feel is the perfect fit for Beefsteak Club” Susannah Taylor, marketing manager at Ehrmanns, who notes that the brand was developed with wine and steak lovers in mind and has a special appeal to younger drinkers, particularly the under 28s. “[Cans] are also ideal for this period where friends and family are being encouraged to meet outdoors. Light-weight small-serves are great for enjoying by the barbecue, at a picnic, or for taking to the beach. Malbec can benefit from light chilling on a hot summer’s day, and cans make this easy.”

The cans have an RRP of £2.99 and are already being retailed by Booths and Spar. They are also available to London convenience outlets through Imperial Cash and Carry.

Hardys, also from Accolade Wines, continues to be a top Convenience brand with a 7.6 per cent growth surge in the channel last year. “We have seen people pick-up wine more often and buy more of it, and the Convenience channel has been vital in increasing these impulse sales,” says Norbert Jozsa. “Trust in established brands has been a theme of Covid-19 shopper behaviours and will continue in the alcohol sector for the months ahead. There has been continued strong performances for most the top brands as consumers look for reassurance, with trust and confidence remaining high on shopper’s agendas.”

He says that Malbec – that full-bodied red wine – is the standout varietal across all styles recording 30 per cent value growth compared to last year.

Whichever colour combination best suits your shelves, it is certain that the choice and quality available to the channel has never been so wide or good.