Sparkling wine: Uncork the category's potential

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Related tags: Sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Champagne

So often, drinks trends in the freetrade develop from initiatives led by brands and the big managed estates. This couldn't be more the case than in...

So often, drinks trends in the freetrade develop from initiatives led by brands and the big managed estates. This couldn't be more the case than in champagne and sparkling wine.

There are finally signs that wine suppliers are starting to take the pub market seriously. Coming up with heavily-marketed, pub-focused brands such as Echo Falls Spritz, profiled on page 50. Their eagerness to talk to The Publican for this focus is surely also proof they really want to communicate and work with pubs.

JD Wetherspoon ran a wine festival across its estate last month. Eight of its pubs sold more than the equivalent of 2,000 bottles of wine during the 19-day event. Look around and there are similar schemes being run by managed groups around the country - Marston's, for example, is a pub operator increasingly turning to wine, still and sparkling, for profits.

The amount of sparkling wine sold in pubs has grown accordingly. According to Nielsen, the total volume of sparkling wine and champagne sold by the on-trade in Great Britain in the year to May 2008 was up nine per cent. Champagne was the real reason for the boom, up 22 per cent, while other sparkling wines fell nine per cent.

Here's the views of wine experts on how you can get in on the action…

Robin Knapp, Matthew Clark director of wine

For pubs to make decent money from sparkling wine they should "not go mad on range," according to Knapp.

"I would choose just a handful of wines and promote them properly. You have to make it very clear you have those wines for sale."

Punters are perhaps only just becoming accustomed to ordering bubbly in the pub, so you need to focus on promoting a small selection that is not trying to be too sophisticated.

The range, Knapp suggests, should include one New World bubbly and a rosé - a style of wine becoming more popular. However, this "should not be done at the expense of champagne. There's still that perception of aspiration and quality going on with champagne."

Because sparkling wine is still a premium product with a premium price tag, Knapp says you should think about offering more affordable quarter bottles for a by-the-glass serve. This has implications for choice of products. As Knapp says: "Here you are relying on big known brands like Freixenet, which have sufficient volumes to produce small bottles."

Sarah Gandy, Distel marketing manager for wines

South Africa's largest drinks manufacturer and distributor Distel believes in the power of brands when it comes to sparkling wine.

"Having brands that people recognize is very important to the consumer," Gandy says. "They can be sceptical if they have not heard of it. Names like Freixenet and Jacob's Creek they will probably have heard of from Tesco."

In-pub promotion, she says, is crucial and should be done by fridge displays, ice buckets on the bar and running deals related to summer or food.

Training in the basics should not be overlooked, and Gandy points to the importance of cold, clean glassware.

Richard Volpi, PLB sales manager

Offering wine by the glass is a risky strategy. It could leave you with half-full bottles going to waste.

Volpi, of wine wholesaler PLB, suggests the solution to this is to run by-the-glass promotions for limited time periods in order to raise awareness and increase the rate of sale. One example would be a champagne and strawberries deal during Wimbledon, he says.

There is much talk about the potential for champagne in food-led pubs, but all is far from lost if you're wet-led, Volpi believes. "It does not necessarily have to be drunk on food occasions - people drink it for a celebration on its own," he says.

When it comes to promoting the sparkling wine offer, don't take the category too seriously - show a sense of humour on your blackboards, he adds.

Francoise Perotti, Champagne Information Bureau director

"While pubs are a very important market for champagne, it can be a bit intimidating to pub customers," says Perotti.

For this reason, she says, it is important for staff to be able to impart straightforward information about the product to punters. "This doesn't mean they have to be experts," Perotti adds.

Menus are important as well. Descriptions should reflect the clientele, with a simplified pub menu very different from one in restaurant, according to Perotti.

She also believes that UK customers' tastes in champagne are polarised. It is advisable to stock a pink champagne due to rosé's popularity - and this tends to be a very sweet style. However, there is also big demand for Brut Zero, the driest style of champagne.

Jon Luke, Percy Fox national on-trade channel director

It is pointless trying to be budget-conscious with sparkling wine, according to Luke, as this is contradictory to its role in pubs.

"Occasionality is key in promoting sparkling wines," he says. "They are often bought for special events and this should be reflected in how pubs promote them.

"It's less about cutting price and more about adding value. Consumers want to feel that they are getting a real experience in this category and the good news is that this is an area where the on-trade can really put the off-trade in the shade.

"It would be unwise to drag a well-performing category down to price-fighting with the subsequent loss of value this strategy would bring about."

Top 10 sparkling wines in the GB on-trade

Möet & Chandon

Mercier

Lanson

Freixenet

Veuve Clicquot

Martini Asti Spumante

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin

Jacob's Creek

Laurent Perrier

Piper Heidsieck

Champagne over ice

Has wine jumped on the over ice band wagon? It certainly seems so, given Gallo's pushing of rose over ice and - in champagne - Piper & Charles Heidsieck promoting Piper Piscine.

Piscine, a style produced specifically to be served over ice, got further marketing support after its launch last year. With accompanying oversize (to accommodate the cubes and recommended fruit) red glasses, Piper ran a trial of it in 50 pubs in July.

Is it good for the category or a strategy that cheapens champagne's classy image?

"Responding to contemporary trends is a good thing," claims brand manager for Piper & Charles Heidsieck Janette Peat. "It's about keeping the format strong."

She believes that champagne drinkers have been lacking in options when it comes to how to consume the wine on different occasions. Peat says: "This is just one way to drink Piper. We are not advocating this is the best or only way.

"It's a question of getting Piper out there, letting people drink it however they want."

Related topics: Wine

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