Wine is leading the way for growth in pubs for the fifth year running
The last year has been a vintage one for wine in pubs. Figures from The Publican Newspaper Market Report 2000, a survey of nearly 1,000 publicans, shows that a staggering 68 per cent of publicans have seen a growth in wine sales over the year.
Wine is leading the way as the biggest growth area for the fifth year running. Seven out of every 10 publicans have noticed a shift from grain to grape for the second consecutive year and 59 per cent expect an increase in turnover within the next 12 months.
Despite this growth, it seems that the major companies have yet to fully uncork wine's vast potential. The survey revealed that only 19 per cent of customers asked for a specific brand when ordering wine. This suggests there is huge room for improvement in the category's marketing and brand awareness.
Clare Griffiths, wine marketing manager at Matthew Clark, suppliers of the leading brand Stowells of Chelsea, admitted the wine category was more generic than others, but claimed customers were becoming more brand aware after experimenting with different wines at home.
"Although the majority of customers still ask for a glass of dry white or red wine, there is an increasing number of people who are now specifically asking for an Australian white or a Chilean Red," she said.
Sophie Gallois, marketing controller at Caxton Wines, conceded that previously it was considered too early to put brand before category.
She said: "We are, of course, extremely aware of the low brand activity, and are always looking at increasing our Jacob's Creek and Long Mountain brands alongside New World Wines in general - up 33 per cent in the on-trade last year - in order to grow with a category that offers huge opportunities."
Recent research by Key Note revealed that the on-trade attracted a mere 15 per cent of the £7.24billion spent on wine in 1999 by UK consumers. With that figure expected to rise to £8.58billion by 2004, publicans can ill-afford to rest on their laurels and will need to play a more substantial role in wine's ascendancy.
The unprecedented boom has nevertheless caught lagers and ales on the hop, and has signalled an end to the stereotypical image associated with the grape in the Eighties and early Nineties.
Long gone are the days when wine was exclusively confined to wine bars populated by pony-tailed yuppies sipping warm glasses of Beaujolais Nouveau in between shouting "buy, sell, buy, sell" into gigantic mobile phones.
NoseToday, the climate couldn't be more different. The off-trade invasion of more adventurous European, Australian and South American wines has seen the emergence of a canny and more knowledgeable drinker with a nose for something more original than your average Blue Nun or Liebfraumilch.
With on-trade design trends favouring the lighter, spacious and more female-friendly environment, an increasing number of pubs are becoming more conducive to drinking and appreciating wine, and are no longer exclusively male-dominated and beer oriented.
Tim Atkin, The Observer's wine writer and consultant for Scottish & Newcastle's Chef and Brewer, said: "Traditionally, the on-trade has lagged behind the off-trade and the pub was the last place to go in order to enjoy good wine. Today, the publican can neither afford to underestimate the choice available to the customer nor the potential profits."
Atkin added: "Ten years ago, the wine list consisted almost always of European wines such as Frascati and Côtes de Rhone. There has been a massive move towards a mix of New World wines and old-style wines from less traditional areas such as southern France, southern Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina. These wines offer a fruity taste, value for money and accessible flavours."
The need to offer a varied wine list is all the more pressing for licensees offering a wide range of food, such as higher turnover rural and village pubs who, according to the Market Report, have seen a 75 per cent increase in wine sales over the past year.
Publicans should be looking to replace house wines with wines from all four corners of the globe.
Customers are just as likely to scrutinise the wine list as the food menu, and if they don't like what they see, they are prepared to go elsewhere.
An exciting and eclectic wine list is rendered useless, however, if the wine is served incorrectly. Taking steps to ensure the temperature is right, the wine is fresh and immaculately presented in a spotless glass, can only improve the chances of the customer coming back.
However, conditions within a pub on a busy Friday night do not often lend themselves to wine appreciation, and when time is at a premium, faced with a rowdy and demanding bar, the publican could be forgiven for veering away from the ideal temperature by a couple of degrees.
Britain's leading wine suppliers recognise the huge potential for growth with the maturing wine sector and for a comprehensive support scheme so that publicans need not feel alone when it comes to serving and choosing wine.
Waverley has its own website which provides customers with on-line purchase, detailed tasting notes and special offers, while Matthew Clark offers its licensees the opportunity to embark on a gruelling training programme consisting of 10 modules and a final exam.
Laura Tuckwell, group director of purchasing, said: "The publican is taught on every aspect of wine from storing to pouring. The training can either be done by one of our sales advisers or at the Grant's of St James's School of Wine."
With an improved knowledge of wine, brewers hope that the licensee can be transformed from a dedicated follower into an innovative trendsetter in the wine category.
Scotland saw the greatest regional rise in wine sales last year with 75 per cent of publicans recording increased sales. Waverley recently encouraged its Scottish customers to switch from cash to percentage margins in an effort to tempt drinkers to trade up.
Waverley's regional sales manager, Ian Cummings, who masterminded the scheme said: "We're trying to encourage the use of cash margins.
"By reducing the percentage margins from about six per cent, and cutting the price of a £25 bottle to £18 or £19 for example, we not only found that sales of wine by the bottle went up significantly, but also that the cash margins increased by 35 per cent - remember, you bank pounds not percentages!"
Market Report on wine
- Publicans saw a 68 per cent increase in wine sales
- Five per cent of pubs saw a drop
- Scotland saw the greatest rise - 75 per cent
- Wine drinkers in the South East can expect to pay £1.75, while their counterparts in the North West pay £1.39
- The average price for a 125ml glass of wine currently stands at £1.53
- 73 per cent of customers ask for "a glass of wine". Only 19 per cent ask for a specific brand
- 59 per cent of publicans expect an increase in turnover within the next 12 months.
Harvesting wine's potential
- Freshness is important, make sure the wine has not been left lying around for more than 24 hours. If it has, throw it away
- Inner gas protection reduces wastage and allows you to serve premium wines by the glass
- Learn to recognise a corked wine. If a customer complains about a wine, you need to know why
- Don't be afraid to put the cork back in the bottle. After pouring a glass - you still have a day to sell the rest of it
- Stage promotions such as wine tasting sessions, happy hours, upsizing a 175ml glass to 250ml, two bottles for the price of one, buy two glasses and the rest of the bottle free
- Wine display - extremely important, make use of blackboards, wine lists and merchandising kits to ensure the display is interesting, innovative and inviting
- The pricing policy should be accessib