premier-mcdougal 5/2/20

Wine of the Times

Even as we come out of lockdown, so much is still up in the air for our industry. Even though the government has given the green light for restaurants and bars to reopen and reduce social distancing to 1m, we have no idea if customers will flood back to their favourite establishments or return in a cautious trickle? Or what they will be looking for from their experience when they return.

Now is a good opportunity to reassess your business and what it offers to your customers. Take your wine menu, for example. The buying of wine by consumers has changed during lockdown and it is important to make sure your wine offering has moved on too.  “It’s vital that operators recognise how consumers’ tastes and expectations have been affected by the lockdown, and to see this as an opportunity for them to ensure that their buying meets the new requirements,” says John Mansfield, CEO of The Society of Vintners Ltd.

What’s changed?
When restaurants and bars closed in March, consumers turned to shops and online outlets to purchase their alcohol. Supermarkets and off-licences reported that sales of beer, wine and spirits were up by a fifth in the first week of lockdown and, during the same time period, online sales of alcohol increased by 50%.

What to do
Re-evaluate your price bands: Consumers have become exposed to much better quality, affordable wine because they have only been paying retail prices. Many customers will have been impacted economically by the pandemic but there will be others who have plenty of disposable income and are looking to treat themselves to something special. This gives operators the opportunity to welcome back their customers by matching that expectation with a different or better quality wine than they have previously selected.

“For example, an oaked Roble Malbec – like the Tierras Viejas Roble – would be one to serve. It is an Argentinian bottled Malbec with enticing aromas of blueberries, blackberries, vanilla, black cherry mocha and spice,” suggests John.

With many consumers happy with the quality and style of Chilean reds, why not entice them to move up to a Grand Reserve quality, such as Irene Morales Grand Reserve Syrah / Cabernet Sauvignon? It’s a warming blend of blackberry, blackcurrant and clove notes packed in an impressive heavyweight bottle. And for those customers who still want something like Pinot Grigio, a Soave would make a nice alternative.

“Operators may have to cut their margins a little to start with – which may be difficult – but by offering their customers a higher price wine the end result will be worthwhile. Customers will have a more enjoyable experience, so this will result in them returning to your venue, and having being used to the better quality wine they will continue to order it. In time, this will enable you to slowly raise your margin again,” explains John.

Expand your wine list: Consumers have been exposed to a much wider range of wines in their supermarket or local off-licence than they are used to from their local pub or favourite restaurant so add more wines to your list.

“Lockdown home drinking has meant consumers have had more time to scour shelves – and websites – and experiment and educate themselves about new wines, rather than sticking with their usual go-to one,” says John. “For example, if you only have a couple of standard rosés on your wine list, speak to your supplier about offering the Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé. This would make a great addition with its classic salmon pink colour and elegant nose of cranberries, rosehip and cherry stones. Plus, the bottle has an unusual but very attractive glass stopper – and it’s organic.”

Speak to your supplier: Lockdown forced some on-trade wholesalers to expand their offering to retail so make sure when you place your order those boundaries aren’t blurred.

“Historically, wines are kept specifically for retail or on-trade, apart from certain expectations such as Moët Champagne or Jacob’s Creek. Therefore, when you place an order with your supplier make sure there isn’t any crossover – customers will not want to see their garage-bought wine on their local pub or restaurant’s wine list for double the price,” says John.

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