Archive - wine culture RSS Feed

Oddbins chain sold to ex cellar

Oddbins put up the “SOLD” sign yesterday (see here, and here). Really, for those who have been following this (including me), it was not a surprise. What might be a surprise was who bought it. Ex Cellar.

Who?

Well, I can’t claim to be clued up about all the businesses out there, but this one is pretty small, with only 2 outlets BUT … it has a particularly powerful motivator, the kind of thing that might be needed to turn around the performance of a business like Oddbins. The family name.

Ex cellar is run by the son of the founder of Oddbins, Simon Baille.

I come across a phenomenon regularly both in my professional life and my personal experiences. The businesses that impress me most are those where everyone I come into contact with are motivated to make the ‘relationship’ with me (the customer, or supplier) a success because it is good for the business, and for them personally.

I’m sure that seems like common sense, but how many times are you served in a restaurant by someone who obviously is there only for the money and really is only doing the bare minimum? Instead, think how you feel when you walk into a small business and are served by the owner who does everything to please you and make you feel important – because you are.

The best larger businesses manage to engender that feeling even when you are being served by an employee, not the owner, but that employee is fully committed to the business and to the relationship.

Oddbins USED to have this. There was a camaraderie, a pioneering spirit and a sense of fun that was shared amongst all stores. Even though they were not running a small, independent local store, you still felt like it was, but still got the benefit of great buyers sourcing interesting stuff from all around the world.

When it lost that sense of fun, that commitment, it lost its USP and it became just another retailer. Even the mightiest can fall at this hurdle (Starbucks is on the retreat, and McDonalds has been for some years too).

I hope that the new owners can use the family link to recreate that personal commitment from the staff to the business that will make Oddbins a great source of wine again. It is not going to be easy, but all of a sudden, there is at least the potential for this to happen.

If I could make a suggestion though, I would suggest that the developers of the ex cellar website do not get the job of redesigning the Oddbins site! If you need contacts, let me know!

BOGJO

It used to be “bog off!” or, more correctly BOGOF, Buy One Get One Free

Now we may be moving to the post-BOGOF era, or BOGJO – Buy One, Get Just One (but maybe with a discount).

According to the news in Harpers today that in turn were quoting a report in The Grocer (who have a closed site), BOGOF deals in UK supermarkets are being scrapped because consumers are suddenly realising that a greater volume of stuff you didn’t want is not necessarily a “deal”.

It seems initially counter-intuitive to those of us in the UK who have had volume deals rammed down our throats, quite literally in the case of wine, but being convinced to pay a greater sum of money in exchange for more “stuff” is not good for our wallets or the environment.

Coincidentally, WRAP also announced today that UK consumers waste 3.6 million tons of food each year, most going untouched before ending up in landfill sites. As they say, we pay 3 times for this waste: paying extra money for the food in the shops, paying to deal with the waste and its transport, and also paying an environmental cost as waste ruins the environment.

I can see this in my own life. I have jokingly referred to the fruit bowl beside me here as my “pre-compost bin” as so much (organic) fruit I receive on a weekly basis goes off while I munch biscuits, sometimes bought in BOGOF deals, instead (for the record, I have a series of compost bins in the garden full of very happy worms).

And what about wine? BOGOF deals in wine are very common, but how many consumers really wanted that extra bottle of the £8 wine, when they could buy 1 bottle for £6, getting potentially better wine and still saving £2.

There have been many complaints that wines sold in this way were not worth the price tags they announced, and in fact their value was closer to the ‘deal’ price, so in fact there was no benefit to the consumer. In this case, consumers were losing out by having to pay for more bottles they hadn’t intended to buy.

There is some truth to this, especially if consumers feel they have been misled, but I think the pricing issue is not the key point. Who is to say whether the wine should be sold at £7.99 or £3.99? Wine pricing is not, and should not be, exclusively about COST, but I think I’ll leave the “How to Price a Wine” debate for another time.

The most important point is that ONLY those wines that could generate sufficient marketing funds to pay for BOGOF deals AND to get placed in those end-of-aisle bins (known as Gondola Ends) were getting the promotional slots in the supermarkets. Therefore only those wines backed by the deep-pockets of multinationals, or those that charged a higher price for wines when not on promotion, were reaching the consumer.

If this is now changing, more wineries that have smaller budgets might get a chance to be seen & heard. They may still have to find money to fund 30% or more discounts (we will not be weaned off deals that quickly!), but that is a very different story to a BOGOF.

As I have said before, wine ‘marketing’ in the UK has been too concerned with pricing and discounts, and not enough about the wine itself for long enough. If we can see a silver lining in the dark clouds of climate change and the global credit crunch, it should possibly be that the time really has come to drink less wine, but better wine, and for wine companies to speak up about the environment, sustainability of agriculture, and agricultural economies too, and also to help lighten the gloom.

Wine & Pork

Off to eat Pork and drink wines from Alsace – here’s a taster

[UPDATE: Click here for a picture of the centrepiece of the meal. Warning, not for vegetarians!]

Aperitif

Rolly Gassmann Pinot Auxerrois Moenchreben de Rohrschwihr 1997
+1 of the gewurz

Langoustines

Trimbach Riesling CFE 1995
Leon Beyer Riesling Comtes D’Eguisheim 2000
Weinbach Riesling Schlossberg Cuvee Ste Catherine 1997
ZH Riesling Clos Hauserer 1994

Foie Gras

Schlumberger Gewurz Princes Abbes 2000
Zind Humbrecht Gewurz 1998
Hugel Gewurz Tradition 1997
ZH Gewurz Clos Windsbuhl 1989
Trimbach Gewurz SDR 1998

Suckling Pig

Trimbach TPG Reserve Personelle 1998
ZH TPG Clos Jebsal 1997.
ZH TPG, Clos St.Urbain, Rangen, 2002

Hugel Riesling VT 1964
Hugel Riesling VT 1976
Hugel TPG VT 1976

Contemplation of pudding

ZH Clos Windsbuhl TPG VT 1990
ZH Riesling Brand VT 1990

Pudding

Albert Mann Pinot Gris Hengst SGN 1994
Rolly Gassman Gewurtz SGN 1997

An Audience With … Me

I was invited by a friend and ex-colleague to talk to her Wine Business and Wine Production class at Plumpton College yesterday where I met a very interesting and diverse bunch of people. I wish them lots of luck with their future careers in wine.

The subject of the talk was me (jokingly referred to as “An Audience With …“). More specifically, it was about my experience in the wine business, how I got (stumbled) into it, what I have done, and any suggestions I may have for those trying to do the same.

I will skip the vast majority of the content as it is irrelevant (and not all that interesting really), but I thought I would post a couple of the closing thoughts I had for them as they may be relevant to others, whether you are in the trade or looking to get into it.

1. Help solve a problem.

It isn’t good enough to turn up to interviews with a bunch of skills but no idea what is going on in the trade. There are some key issues facing the wine trade today, what do you think they are, and what do you think your prospective employer could do (with you) to address these (profitably)?

My own, very quick, list was:

  • How do we sell better wine? (upselling)
  • How can we reach more (new) consumers?
  • How do we grow our business responsibly?
  • How do we educate consumers?

No-one expects you to answer these questions fully (and if you can, set up your own business!), but if you have thought about them and about how you can help the prospective employer put this into practice, you’ve got a lot more to offer than other candidates.

2. Blog!

The wine trade (in the UK) may not believe it at the moment, but I am convinced that blogging / self-publishing / consumer driven content / whatever you want to call it, will become a major influence in wine purchasing in the very near future. If nothing else, as wine retail develops online and more consumers purchase a greater range of products online, the need for recommendations and suggestions will increase. Blogging, and Wine 2.0 in general, also has the opportunity to change how we source information on wine wherever the consumer decides to buy it.

If you want to be in wine marketing in the next few years you really have to be familiar with this new trend. All it takes is to sign up to a few blogs, read them, contribute comments and share the conversation.

[I am particularly intrigued to know what they make of Wine Library TV (if anyone of you drops by, please leave me a comment) which I pointed them to as only 1 had heard of it before]

Even better, get involved and start your own. Blogging encourages you to put your own thoughts in order and encourages you to do a little more research (well, I did say a little). If you want to communicate about wine in the future day job, why not start now?

Also, the more there are of us providing interesting content, the better the general knowledge archive will be. Blog posts are permanent records, however well or badly they are written, and a well-meaning post, properly researched, might turn out to be invaluable to others

A Final Thought

We need more people to join the wine trade not just because they love wine, but because they have something to offer to improve the business. If you can find a way to tap into consumers needs and ways of thinking, then there will be lots of people willing to give you that dream job you are looking for!

Are you Drinking or Thinking?

I have read a number of posts recently concerning the link between the enjoyment of wine & “thinking”, for example here and here.

I believe that really enjoying wine does require the consumer to exercise not only their senses, but also their imagination, and so has to involve “thinking” to some extent.

Unfortunately, most people already have “too much on their mind” and therefore filter out what they see as “unnecessary” or complex information.

Philosophers and Social Psychologists can debate the finer points of this and either disagree or provide more details, but, stated simply, I believe that the average person’s ability to consciously understand and process information is limited, and for simplicity’s sake, let’s call this process their “mind”.

Two people quoting point scores at each other is not a conversation, it is a game of Top Trumps

This is important for the wine business because if it is true, getting busy consumers to think about your wine or brand means competing not only with what is already “on their mind”, but with every other product, brand and person trying to get in on the action too. This concept is called “Share of Mind” or “Mindshare“.

But who cares?

Well, there are many related issues that this touches upon.

1. A recent study in the US by Constellation, apparently showed that a large number of US wine consumers were “overwhelmed” by the choice of brands available. In theory, if you convert them to consumers of your ‘easy solution’, then you’ve got a hit wine brand. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as saying “here is a new wine to make your life easier”, you have to get their attention before they’ll hear the message. To get a share of mind from this audience, you have to fight VERY hard, and that means a lot of money in advertising. More on this topic soon, but it is also worth reading Dr. Debs’ view first.

2. Why are point scores for wine reviews so popular? Well, a score summarises all those tiresome descriptions, positive feelings, negative complications, and vinous complexities into a neat comparison tool.

“87 is greater than 86, so that wine is better!”

Points help to avoid any need to research, compare and analyse, and summarise it all into something that allows for simple calculations. Why fight for a share of mind when you can supply them with a easy reference tool? Unfortunately, it does nothing for the Wine Conversation. Two people quoting point scores to each other is not a conversation, it is a game of Top Trumps.

I’m not really saying that scoring itself is a bad idea. When well used, points can play a positive role as additional bits of information, but generally speaking they are taken out of context and misused – somewhat like the ‘dark side of the force’.

3. There are many discussions about wine culture around the world. Does the UK have a wine culture or just a drinking culture? Does the US have a wine culture? What is the European wine culture today? I’d suggest that the difference between a drinking culture and a wine (or beer) culture, is whether there is a conscious involvement in the choice of consumption.

The person who rolls up to the bar and orders “a lager”, or ” glass of house wine” (or even arguably those used to ordering well established “brands” like Pinot Grigio) are in the former. The choice figures only in their mind as an alternative path to inebriation and no more. However, even a cursory glance at a wine list, and a choice of a variety or region they have some association with, forms part of a wine culture, however shallow.

I could go on, but most of these points deserve a post in their own right.

Much of this was kicked off by the posts I mentioned above. For some of us, even “comfort wines” are wines that evoke feelings, memories or our imagination.

And this brings me to my final thought. The more we bother to THINK about wine, its history, its agricultural roots and its role in our culture, the less we are likely to abuse it as a mere alcoholic drink. If this helps to reduce the harm to individuals and society stuck in a drinking culture, then we are doing our job well.

Page 6 of 12« First...«45678»10...Last »