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Magic numbers: 14, 21, 35, 50, 60? [updated]

No, these are not my lottery numbers, but the sorts of numbers that appear regularly in any column about wine consumption at the moment.

In summary:
14: the weekly maximum recommended alcohol intake for women
21: the weekly maximum recommended alcohol intake for men
35: 15-35 units a week being the “hazardous” level for women doing them “long-term harm”
50: 22-50 units a week being the “hazardous” level for men doing them “long-term harm”
60: “Trebles all round

I am not aware if other countries have similar measures, so let me deal with the UK situation for now and if it applies wherever you are, then maybe you can modify the numbers accordingly**

I have never understood where these numbers came from, and how exactly they link to scales of harm. For example, some questions that come to mind would be:

* How much worse are 22 units than 21?
* What about those who have 21 units in one go, versus those who have them evenly over the week?
* How long do you need to be staying above 21 to damage yourself?
* Can you average it out over a couple of years? How about over a lifetime (I could cash in on a relatively late start to my drinking career)?

Rather than focus on the amount of alcohol taken in “on average”, and thus picking a number relatively at random, wouldn’t it be better if we were encouraged to monitor our health better? A dodgy (but not yet irreversibly bad) liver test result would be a lot more motivating than simply sitting down and counting alcohol units to realise you were above the recommended level.

The recent announcement by the UK government that they would finally turn the NHS into an organisation that supported prevention of disease, rather than trying to cure those who are already sick, could be good news. Wouldn’t it be better to go to the doctor, feeling healthy and discover that you have been a little too liberal with your pouring and that cutting back for the next couple of months or years will get you back on track, than to know nothing until you liver packs in and you join the transplant queue?

My worry about this is that the UK government in particular is likely to use this as a stick to beat society, setting up league tables and legislating on ways to force people to comply rather than educating and supporting individuals’ choices. I can see how it would turn us all into guilty teenagers, worried about whether ‘they’ found out we’d been sampling from the spirits cabinet.

Whilst I totally agree that alcohol abuse is a major problem, I’m not sure that we have yet found a way of having a sensible discussion about it.

Is anyone aware of a country that has managed to have such a discussion? And anyone know where the numbers above come from?

Here are some additional links on the subject matter as suggested by Peter in the comments. I’ll add more as I come across them:

Drinks Limits ‘Useless’ – The Times 20 October 2007
Unit of Alcohol – Wikipedia
Estimating alcohol consumption from survey data (UK) – this is an official PDF from the UK National Statistics office

** It is ALWAYS worth reminding people how to calculate these units as any rule of thumb is likely to be misleading – and a serious underestimation.

Stormy waters for Stormhoek

Lots of interest in the story about Stormhoek and Orbital going into administration that I posted recently, so I thought I would update it with a few more thoughts.

My first observation is that there has been a deafening silence from Hugh MacLeod on the subject of Orbital’s problems. You’d think that the uber-blogger and chief communicator might have something to say on the subject so I am guessing that either a) he is so thoroughly ****ed off that he dare not discuss it or b) – much more likely – that there is stuff happening behind the scenes and he is waiting for that to be made public. I certainly do hope it is the latter.

Secondly, Alastair brought up the issue of the 4P’s of Marketing (a subject I have covered before myself before) in the comments.

I do think that Stormhoek did manage to have a good Product, at an attractive Price and had managed to get reasonable distribution (Place) for the wine – and of course they were famous for the Promotion. Here was a brand NOT using Price as their main driver – hurrah!

The main reported reason for the failure of the business was a poor decision to upset a retailer by selling their wines cheaper to a competitor, resulting in them being delisted. Whether this is factually correct or not I do not know, but it reminds us that retailers have power over such young brands – and that without the P of Place/Distribution none of the other elements mattered enough, and the business suffered.

However, I would also suggest that there is another way they had suffered a little lately as Alastair’s story demonstrates (see comment number 5). The focus had moved too far towards packaging and the image. There were regular label changes, including for Valentine’s Day, special runs with new labels for facebook groups, awards dinners and Microsoft, etc. I’d suggest that all these distracted from the main business objectives and did not focus enough on getting fans to put their money where their browsers were and go out and buy the wine.

A small company cannot cope with lots of different labels and dispatching tiny lots of wines all over the place (for free!!). The key is focus, and in a competitive market like wine, to minimise costs. Instead, they started upsetting their fan base by fragmenting their product offering and making it harder to deliver on their promises.

The Wine Conversation needs to be as general and free-ranging as possible, and no brand could, or should, control it. Anyone can join in and so become interested in wine, whatever their angle is on the subject. However, as Josh pointed out, a winery or brand needs to sell wine in order to survive, and their conversation must ultimately lead people to the cash register.

I hope that Stormhoek 2.0 gets back to basics and uses its indubitable communication skills to get their product selling again.

More thoughts soon I’m sure when more news comes out.

[UPDATE: More news out now. See here. The Administrator is "optimistic" of reaching a deal next week.]

Sad news for wine marketers

This story caught my eye this weekend:

Orbital Collapses into Administration (from Off Licence News)

You may never have heard of Orbital, but if you read about wine you have probably heard about Stormhoek and their more innovative marketing campaigns, particularly online, and as a blog reader/publisher you will almost certainly have come across Hugh MacLeod at Gapingvoid who has been working with the brand.

They have managed to create great visibility and brand awareness for stormhoek, particularly in certain quarters. Unfortunately, it seems that they have not been able to match that with commercial returns, and the business has gone into administration.

This is by no means the end of the story, as it is essentially about cash flow and not the brand or the wine, but it just goes to show that we may talk a lot about what wine could do to become better at communicating with customers and the wine conversation, but margins are so tight, there is very little one can do without very deep pockets.

I trust someone will buy the business as a whole and keep these people in their jobs, and it might even be one of the big international businesses who’d love to have the brand and expertise in their ‘stable’.

A sad day for marketers in the wine business.

As Hugh likes to say, and Stormhoek have recently headed their site:

“Change the world or go home”

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t seem ready to change, yet!

[UPDATE] Josh at Pinotblogger has picked up on this story as well and made some interesting points, some of which I commented on on his blog. Definitely interesting times.

First post of 2008

The first post after a break in blogging is always a pressured one –
must entertain!
must re-engage!!
must be good!!!

Well, to take away that pressure I’ll simply post to wish everyone who is still hanging in there with me a Happy 2008. There are many doom-mongers out there, dragging us down about the prospects for the year ahead, but I am hopeful that they will be wrong.

I remember a little (just a little) of an undergraduate Psychology course I took which covered Behaviourism. One of the few things I (vaguely and possibly incorrectly) recollect is the idea that conscious “decisions” sometimes follow behaviour rather than the other way around.

“Do I feel happy? Well, I’m smiling, so I guess I must be!”

If I’m correct, and I will go away now and try and read up on it, it has implications relating not only for wine, but for our daily lives, including the economy. After all, if we all believe it is going to be a bad year, then by deciding in advance that we will cut back on things, we will be ensuring it is for us and for others.

So, think positive, smile, convince yourself the prospects are good, open a nice bottle of wine, and welcome the year to come.


Where to with Wine Blogging?

Travelling again, and had some important milestones on my other blog about Forest Hill to deal with, so it has been quite quiet around here.

Here is a quick link to prove I am still around.

If you fancy listening to some interesting discussions on wine blogging from some leading figures in this sphere, check out Tim Elliot’s Winecast discussion: Unfiltered 7: Wine Blogging Today

If you are a blogger, or are considering joining in The Conversation, check it out.

[UPDATE: you might want to wait until this evening, open a nice bottle of wine and settle down in a comfy chair first. It is a long one!]

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