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The Great Christmas Giveaway

I may be naive, but I think i still remember when “Sales” in shops really were a way of moving old stock lines to make way for the new ones, and before they were just another means of driving footfall and pushing volume.
Wine on the sofa
Sales have now become so common, for everything including wine, that we have become sale junkies. There is never a need to buy something at full price because if you hold off a short while it will almost certainly be on sale. In fact, consumers must feel cheated if they buy it a the normal price, then see it on sale the next week.

Can this continue?

Look at the DFS model. They seem to have a permanent “sale” at 50% off. They obviously rotate the models on offer so as to have them at the full price for the required period of time, but you’d be pretty daft to actually buy one at full price.
This goes for kitchens too. And clothes. And electronics. …

So we are always seeking a bargain, that’s fair. However, we used to have to seek one out and the reward/effort ratio was such that many people would not bother and would therefore buy products at their ‘real’ price. Now the effort is minimal (in fact try avoiding a sale!) and the rewards are massive (Buy One Get One Free, etc.).

You would have thought, therefore, that time critical events such as Christmas would be an opportunity for retailers to avoid sales as consumers cannot just wait and buy cheaper alternatives in the sales. Instead we have the great Christmas Giveaway, where even the products we must have and are prepared to buy in volume, are discounted.

As a consumer I can see how this is benefitting me, but it feeds the habit and I wonder how we can break the cycle? Do we even want to?

Cultural Bonus

I hate it when that happens.

I pretty sure it must have been when I was following a link of another blog, and I came across a short article about the benefits of having a stronger culture of wine. Then I lost it! Who wrote it and where can it be found???

The writer was suggesting that alcohol abuse was more likely when the history and culture of wine is divorced from the product. If you know something about where wine (or alcohol) comes from and how it has evolved, you are more likely to treat it with respect. Of course it was much more eloquent than that, but this was the overall point I got from it. And I agree.

What is wine, or beer, or any spirit for that matter, to an 18 year-old? In most cases, something they have only very recently started to discover, and have no context for. If they did experiment with alcohol it was probably in secret and as a way to get drunk for fun. If they had been able to experiment openly, or had been able to join in conversations about it, that bottle in Mum & Dad’s sideboard might seem less mysteriously alluring.

I applaud the sentiment of the French governing party discussions about teaching school kids to appreciate wine, but I don’t think that schools are the right places to do this. These are things that should be learned at home, with family and friends. This is not always easy, I realise, but replacing it with school lectures is not the answer. Seems to me that would be the fastest way to turn them away from it completely. This is one place where the media can play a positive role, and I am not talking about propaganda, just fun and informative content.

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem that does need to be taken into account. A drunk fellow passenger on the last train home the other night, throwing up in the carriage at my feet was a stark reminder of this. However, demonising alcohol does not work, so why don’t we try being more relaxed about it, allowing both kids and adults to see the positive as well as the negative aspects of alcohol is surely much better?

The Four P’s

Product, Place, Price, Promotion

They hammer that one home in Marketing 101. To market effectively you must manage all four (plus a few others they added later on) and create the right combination to match your customers’ needs.

So why is wine SO stuck on Price alone?

I know, I know. Many will say that it is all about the product, but in fact the real message about product is so often lost before it gets to the consumer, that it is ineffective. Those in the wine business will tell you stories about the apparently confident consumer asking for Red Chardonnay or what country your Rioja comes from, etc. To those with knowledge, these seems ridiculous. In practice they are often the real example of the level of Product knowledge.

So what about Place (the distribution channel). Well, 80% or so of wine is bought in supermarkets, just like all other products, and this is only going up. There are no strong competitive channels at this point. Independent merchants and online retailers are there, and getting better, but where is the concerted campaign to get consumers to switch?

Finally Promotion. “If only we had [product x]‘s budget” is the usual refrain, and I have used it regularly myself. But in truth we lack ideas for this rather than the money.

Look at Magners. They are probably London’s biggest marketers for ice. Cider didn’t sell, so they switched their four P’s around, rethought their product, invested heavily (and I mean heavily) in distribution (place) and promotion. Did anyone ask the price? I doubt it. It took guts, but it paid off.

So when Threshers (40% off), Sainsburys (25% off) and Tesco (a belated match of the 25% off deal), et al start talking about discounts AGAIN, I find it somewhat depressing. It only feeds the obsession and depletes whatever coffers there might have existed with producers, agencies and retailers for investing in talking about anything else.

Ponce, meet Dunce. Dunce, meet Ponce.

Welcome to the second era of Oz.

The first era was Oz Clarke’s now legendary partnership with Jilly Goolden on Food & Drink. Now, whatever they thought of each other, Oz & Jilly managed to get through to the national consciousness and raise the profile of wine. Unfortunately what we remember most are Jilly’s over-the-top descriptions and therefore ridicule their legacy. However, Oz came across as a likeable and knowledgeable chap, and that legacy is very important and should be built upon.

It is for that reason I was very happy to see that Oz was coming back to our screens in not one, but two programmes in the run up to Christmas. However, it now seems you can’t move without bumping into him. In the last few weeks alone I have seen him at the London Wine Show, BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham, BBC2 (more on this later) and in various magazines like Harpers and Wine & Spirit. Is that not enough Oz for one year?

Well, we will be seeing more of him (literally I expect) now that the BBC2 show, Oz & James’ Big Wine Adventure, with James May is under way. There was much anticipation in the business for this show, some with dread, others with glee. I think I was in the latter category to start, but am wondering whether I expected too much.

The show first aired last week and I sat in my hotel room (after a rather long day at the BBC Good Food Show) to see what this was going to be about. The show is meant to be about Oz introducing “beer drinking”,”petrol head” and “man of the people” James May to wine. I am all for that concept, as it afforded all sorts of great opportunities to educate interested viewers. However, the producer is obviously a graduate of the reality TV or day time chat show school of television, where every programme must create a tension between different participants in expectation that they’ll have a fight.

So instead of being well rested and clear headed, they are made to sleep in a tent together (WHY?). Instead of having someone drive them around so they can both taste wine, they go to top wine producers, and have James taste no wine (DUMB!). Then they have stupid stunts, like driving across a field in a 2CV to see if some eggs might break (not even funny on Top Gear) or making wine from bought grapes in a half gallon quantity with a packet of what looked like bread yeast (simply disgusting).

Why? There are SO MANY clever, fun, relevant things they could have done.

On top of all this, presumably to get a few cheap laughs and get people talking (at least that worked) they show us their two virtually naked bodies in various “wine spa” treatments. Yuk! On both counts.

I had hoped that Oz would come across as he is, an affable wine expert who is not stuffy and old fashioned, and therefore bringing wine to lots of potential new wine consumers. Unfortunately so far he comes across as a dotty old codger without a plan to actually get James on-side and enjoying wine. Why does he insist that there is a “right” answer to how a wine tastes? The whole point about wine is that we each have our own experiences and we should have fun exploring the thousands of wines out there. Why does he not get him to taste a range of wines to compare and contrast instead of getting him to sniff cow pats?

As for James May, well, I guess he is playing his part according to the script. I can’t say I was overwhelmed by his style, and I do wish that everyone who has anything to do with Top Gear would stop trying to be Jeremy Clarkson. Get a life, or at least, get a personality of your own!

[For some other reactions, read some other reviews here, here, and here]

I fear that this will be not only an opportunity lost, but will reinforce the misguided stereotypes about wine, and therefore make us worse off.

Let us hope the producer has a trick up his sleeve and will rescue this programme before too long.

Damp Squibs

As could have been predicted, the result was not nearly as dramatic as the trade, the media and the excited consumers might have hoped.

The EU Courts ruled to keep the status quo relating to the payment of duty on wine (and other duty-payable products) imported for personal consumption.

To be honest, I expected this. The law as it is is already very complicated to monitor, and I could already forsee all sorts of ways to get around the remaining Customs oversight if it had changed. Pragmatically, the Court decided that only wines bought in person, in another EU country, and transported back by the consumer themselves would not be liable for duty in the home country.

It is important to note that this ruling did reiterate that even for “personal consumption” purposes, there is a maximum volume of 90L that you can bring in. I do know that a lot of people assume there is no limit, and they also assume that they can ship it without paying further Duty. In many cases the values are too small for Customs to bother with, but the rules are there so you ignore them at your peril.

So, are we any further forward after this? Well, this argument helped to highlight the future benefit of harmonising tax regimes so as to remove this difference, but governments that charge high duty will still need the money, so they will only collect it elsewhere if this source dries up. I will not hold my breath until the UK decides to lower duty on wine & spirits for UK consumers.

Secondly, it did make wine (and cigarettes … shame we have to be connected all the time) the topic of a national conversation again. Unfortunately this was, once again, all about price and “savings”. In practice all you would save was the duty anyway, so it would disproportionately have benefited cheap wines. Not ideal.

Lastly, it did highlight that such a move would push most small merchants over the edge financially. Some of them got a chance to say this to a wider audience because of this story, so maybe, just maybe, there will be some consumers out there who take this to heart and decide to support those merchants by buying their wines from there instead. One can dream.

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