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The Wine Show

It is very last minute I know, but if you are keen to explore more wines from around the world you might want to check out the show going on RIGHT NOW at the Business Design Centre in London.

The Wine Show is a consumer event that I believe is in its third year already and attracts over 10,000 people to try all sorts of wines.

Last year it was quite exciting (some interesting Greek wines stand out in my memory) and I must admit I think this year’s show is a little dull in comparison, but for consumers who want to learn about wines, it is always worth seeking out opportunities to try wines like this.

I did see a number of smaller producers and specialist importers had small stands that I’m sure would be worth exploring, but unfortunately I did not get a chance to linger.

I believe today (Saturday) is sold out, but there may be tickets for tomorrow.

If you do go, let me know what you think of the show.

Alcohol Monopoly

I have been visiting Nova Scotia in Canada for a number of years (it is absolutely beautiful by the way) and usually I am critical of the concept of the Canadian state (well, the Provincial governments) having a monopoly on the sale of alcohol. You can check out the range here.

For those of us living in the UK or most of Europe, the idea that the state should control what wines or spirits should be available, where, and for how much is extraordinary (if you live or visit Sweden this is probably not such a shock for you).

[Some might argue of course that this is exactly where we are heading in the UK because of the retail strength of the supermarkets like Tesco - but even here we at least have a number of alternative ranges to choose from]

My reaction is usually – “How could one organisation tell us what wines we can drink?”, especially when the result, at least in Canada, is a pretty limited range of branded wines?

The reason for this structure is most likely still a hang-over (!) from Prohibition (yes, they had it here too), and there is a sort of puritanical streak to the management of this ‘vice’ which I personally disagree with. It also means that there is a form of “lowest common denominator” effect at work which determines that all wine have to be available in minimum quantities to supply all stores, have to be consistent and also be able to comply with the kinds of red-tape only government departments are able to create. This often results in a pretty bland range.

However, there is one small silver lining to this was pointed out to me which I had not considered. In the UK we have such a high density of population that we can pretty well guarantee access to supermarkets or shops wherever we are, with a few exceptions of course. This means that the market can operate quite freely and there will be someone who can sell you what you are looking for within a reasonable distance.

When you take a country like Canada, this is definitely not the case outside of most large cities. So much of the infrastructure here depends on government support to reach tiny communities in distant areas, that if the government did not step in, certain items (especially luxury items such as wine) would either be impossible to get, or prohibitively expensive.

OK, so wine is probably not the main justification for this type of system, and I’m sure they make a pretty penny or two in tax from selling and taxing all that alcohol, but at least they can get it. Hopefully in time, and with a little popular pressure, the range will improve further.

I’m sure the local “liquor commission” would tell you that a monopoly also means that there are clear & limited channels for reaching consumers, giving the opportunity for ‘managing’ consumer alcohol consumption. I still think that in the longer term education works better than restricting access. However, thinking positively, it does mean there are obvious places to start reaching consumers with information on wine to educate and inform them and improve their experience.

Still, I’ll take Tesco’s range over the NSLC one any day!

Threshers’ incredible disappearing discount

Now this is the kind of thing that brings marketing a bad name.

At Christmas Threshers started a viral campaign that offered a discount voucher worth 40%. It seemed a great deal, until it was pointed out that they ALWAYS offer a “3 for 2″ deal which equates to 33% discount anyway. Of course, many of those receiving the vouchers were not regular customers and therefore were probably unaware of this.

The reaction was mixed. Some saw this as a “rip off”, others as a genuine additional discount even if not nearly as substantial as at first glance. Either way, it seemed to work.

My own view at the time was that this was still a good deal as it represented the equivalent of a further 10% discount on the “normal” price*.

As of today, Threshers are offering 35% off 6 or more bottles until 22 July. “Get the Barbie out of the shed” they say. Hurrah!? That lot at Tesco are only offering 30%.

But, hold on a minute. This is apparently also instead of the usual “3 for 2″ offer. Therefore, the additional money you save for buying 3 more bottles is … 2.5%. We all like deals, but this one is rather small.

This time I can’t help the feeling that the only justification for such an “offer” is to dupe customers into thinking they are getting a better discount without actually offering one. They are not actually ripping anyone off of course, they are offering something of genuinely greater value to the customer, but in this case it is very small.

For example, if you pick up 6 bottles of a wine worth £5, the additional saving is worth 50p. Hardly the kind of thing worth creating a poster campaign about or updating the tills for is it?

Whilst I applaud their “3 for 2″ campaign to encourage high street shoppers to buy in slightly greater volume, I suspect that the outcome of this campaign could be to damage the reputation of Threshers as offering a good deal, and once again equate “marketing” with “rip off”.

Or have I missed something here?

Of course the reason they are doing it is that consumers are so addicted to “deals” that they are now probably losing out heavily to Tesco and others who are currently offering large discounts of their own. Selling wine on the high street in competition to supermarkets is a tough business. I wonder how long Thresher will be able to try and play the same discounting game, or whether it is time for some more of that creative thinking that created the “3 for 2″ in the first place.

* the “normal” price is 66% of the single bottle price, so the ‘extra’ discount is calculated as a % after the initial discount, therefore:
(.4-.3333)/.6666 = 0.1 or 10%

Varietal labelling – some clarifications (Varietals: 3)

Peter May, of the Pinotage Club and also the author of a site and book about wine labels that is definitely worth checking out, made some comments on my pet subject which I thought I ought to post here to clarify a few points.

You can read his comments on my posts on varietal labelling here. In response, I would say:

First of all, I have nothing against listing the varietal make up of a wine. Whether this should be 85% or 100% of the wine is open for debate but it isn’t the fact that it is listed, but rather that the wine packaging focuses too heavily on this one element to speak to the consumer.

Second, with regard to the “flaw in the argument”, I would have to disagree. It is EXACTLY because Stellenbosch, Napa and Margaret River cannot be linked to one style that I argue that the old world countries SHOULD do more to focus on regions. Although this is often regarded as negative, this could be a positive thing. A (protected) regional name is unique, uncopyable, defensible. However, it must be made to be meaningful through proper quality systems and common agreement otherwise it will be eroded.

If, as many believe and you seem to agree, the right (or even best?) varieties are planted in such regions, then there is no need to change the product itself, but maybe focus on the other elements, especially communication. They may not have done it well to date, but that is not in itself a reason not to do it.

I agree that my points were made with a very “old world” view of the world, and you rightly point out that the same argument does not necessarily transfer to New World regions. However, there are many regions of the world that are trying to replicate this model, so there is a future for it. Hunter Semillon? Barossa Shiraz? These regions do try and associate style with the regional name.

Let me make it clear that I am not advocating removing the varietal information from labels. I just think that marketers should be willing to consider relegating it a little further down the order of importance. The current mantra in the industry seems to be “varietal above all else” and I’m only trying to raise a possible counter argument.

I may, of course, be totally wrong.

Isn’t that the wonderful thing about blogs?

Varietals on wine labels – 1


I have started numbering these posts right from the start as I am sure this is a theme I will return to in future.

In brief, conventional wisdom states that the “New World” succeeded in bringing wine to the masses, certainly in the UK, by eschewing all that boring and confusing regional stuff and telling it like it is by stating right up front what varietal(s) the wine was made from.

Consumers, by definition, were interested in purchasing more and better wine but were put off by all those regional and quality indications, such as “Bordeaux Superieur”, “Denominazione di Origine Controllata Chianti Rufina” and “Qualitätswein mit Prädikat”. Too many words, languages and funny letters.

So in marched the honest speaking Aussies and Californians with their Chardonnays, Cabernets and Merlots. Sales of these wines took off and now they out-sell the Old World wines that are “stuck in the past” and “don’t understand branding”.

But how true is this really? More importantly, if people do believe in the pre-eminence of the varietal as a brand to sell the wine, how useful is it, and has it led us down a blind alley?

On the positive side, it is certainly true that simple, well designed and consumer-friendly labels made a big difference. The new wines were specifically designed to appeal to new wine drinkers, not those who knew, or pretended to know, about these things. This was true of the wines themselves as well as the packaging.

These new wines changed all sorts of conventions at the same time, not just the varietal labelling, so analysing why they worked is complicated. The label designs were fresh. The names were pronounceable. The styles were easy drinking and fruity. The alcoholic content from these warmer climates was often higher (and was still being used as a shorthand by consumers for better value in wine). There was even some consumer marketing and sales promotion and they were available in new kinds of wine shops like Oddbins and even, god forbid, the supermarkets. And, of course, they were “new” and “cool”.

However, the easiest thing to point to is the listing of the grapes on the front. But does this actually help?

My own view, and something I realise I will have to come back to if I am not to post a whole essay, is yes & no, but mainly No! I think that they are driving us to a blind alley from which the only escape is to return to the original ideas of regional labelling.

But I think I had better save this for another day.

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