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Category Archives: Wine trends

Why grocery stores love wine

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grocery store wine salesBecause they sell so much of it — and a lot more than most of us realize. Hence the reason for the Great Wall of Wine.

Wine was the seventh biggest category by dollar amount for supermarkets in the 52 weeks ending June 15, recording $6.9 billion in sales. That’s up 3.7 percent from the same period a year ago, and works out to an average of $9.27 a bottle. The figures come from a study by the IRI marketing consultancy and published in the Supermarket News trade magazine.

How impressive are those numbers?

• They don’t include wine sales in New York or Pennsylvania, two huge markets that don’t allow supermarkets to sell wine. Yet, even without those two states, grocers account for about 20 percent of U.S. wine sales.

• They don’t include wine sales at Target, Walmart, and Costco. Throw those in, and that 20 percent total should increase by more than a few points.

• Wine was bigger than a host of established items, including cereal, coffee, bottled water, cookies, and soup. Some of that was because wine is more expensive; we bought three times more cans of soup than bottles of wine. Even so, it’s an impressive total, given the restrictions on wine sales. In Texas, for example, we can buy soup as long as the store is open, but we can’t buy wine on Sunday until noon.

• Wine’s growth was bigger than soft drinks, which lost 3.9 percent, as well as cereal (down 4.3 percent), ice cream (down 0.3 percent), frozen pizza (unchanged), and toilet paper (-0.2 percent). I can’t even pretend to make sense of that. Since when did we need wine more than toilet paper?

These numbers, more than anything else, explain why there is so much opposition to supermarket wine sales in the 19 states where it’s still prohibited. We’re not buying jug wine at the grocery store. That $9 average price means we’re buying many of the same wines we’d buy at wine shops and liquor stores, and small retailers don’t want the competition.

The irony is that, as has been noted on the blog, small retailers may prosper competing with grocers, since they offer something supermarkets can’t — someone to answer questions. The Great Wall of Wine has nothing to do with service.

Photo courtesy of Houston Press food blog, using a Creative Commons license

Why wineries change their label design

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wine label designMostly, because they can. That’s one of the conclusions of an article I wrote for the Beverage Media trade magazine, trying to figure out why so many producers seem to be changing the look and design of their labels. Because, given the changes in the wine business, with more and bigger companies controlling more brands, it’s going to happen more often.

Or, as one retailer told me: “Sometimes I wonder why they need to fix something that isn’t broken.”

And, though the article was written for retailers, it has lessons for consumers as well. Ever go into a store, look for your favorite wine in its regular place with its regular label, and not see it? Chances are it’s still there; it just has a different label. Don’t laugh. Retailers told me this happens all the time.

So what’s going on with all the re-labeling?

• It’s difficult to get a firm grasp on how often this happens. Brands that have changed labels over the past several years include Blackstone, Columbia Crest, La Vieille Ferme, Jacobs Creek, Columbia Winery, Cuvaison, Hahn, Parducci, and Langhe Twins.

• Producers, facing a need to make their product stand out among what may be 15,000 different wines in the U.S., are more willing to change the label than ever before. In addition, they know more about this kind of marketing, and will spend the money to do it where they may have been reluctant before.

• Consumers aren’t always the primary target for label changes. Producers sometimes do it to impress distributors and retailers, to reassure them that they care about the brand and will put marketing dollars behind it. This is completely different from every other consumer packaged good, and we have the three-tier system to thank for it.

• Most label changes aren’t complete makeovers, although that seems to be happening more often. Usually, the changes are tweaks to reinforce the brand’s image, and are only noticeable over time.

• Once-popular wines that aren’t anymore are the most likely to get a new label. Also, producers aren’t shy about changing labels on popular brands, if they see a chance to keep the current audience, which may be older, and attract a new, younger one.

Who has the best job in wine?

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best job in wine

And I don’t even have to wear a tie.

The Wine Curmudgeon, of course. I drink wine and tell people what it tastes like. How much better does any job — in wine or otherwise — get than that?

Which is why I was surprised to see this, “10 of the world’s best jobs in wine,” from the British trade magazine, The Drinks Business. Wine writing was only fourth, and while it was rated ahead of vineyard worker at No. 6 (No. 6? obviously written by someone who has never picked grapes on a 100-degree day for minimum wage or piecework), it was outranked by cellar manager, vineyard owner, and winemaker.

The rest of the list: 10, sommelier; 9, airline wine consultant; 8, wine brand owner; 7, tasting room manager; and 5, wine shop owner.

Of those that rank ahead of writing, I can understand winemaker, given that’s the whole point of wine. But vineyard owner? That’s farming, which combines the joy of picking grapes with the delight of exchanging spreadsheets with bankers, all the while staring at the sky and cursing the weather. And cellar manager? Consider these duties: Hiring people to work in the winery’s cellar and maintaining equipment. Hiring is bad enough, but maintaining equipment? Talk about chalk on a blackboard.

This is not meant as a criticism of any of these jobs, and anyone who enjoys them and does them well has my respect and admiration. Rather, it’s to note that I fully appreciate my good fortune in doing what I do. Yes, it’s sometimes work, whether grinding out a blog post when my brain is somewhere else, or tasting my way through a couple of dozen wines that not only taste the same, but are as stupid as a TV reality show. But it’s not working in a coal mine or behind the broiler at Burger King; I’m indoors, people respect my opinion, and I get to taste some tremendous wine. How much luckier can one person be?

Image courtesy of Vinography, using a Creative Commons license

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