Prosecco has taken the place of cheap pinot grigio on the bar, which is becoming problematic for producers who are facing pressure to supply the product for lower prices, Graves told The Morning Advertiser.
In 2016, Brits drank a third of the 410.9m bottles of Prosecco produced, which was more than any other country according to the Consortium for the Protection of Prosecco.
“There’s party Prosecco and then there’s good-quality Prosecco,” said Graves. “I don’t see the demand for Prosecco slowing, and it’s becoming the default drink at the bar for a group of friends."
“But for us in our trade, it’s becoming a bit of a problem because people want to pay less for it, but it’s a product that has more processes than just making a wine.”
The majority of the Prosecco currently being consumed by people was the equivalent of a mainstream lager, he added.
“That’s entry-level Prosecco, but we’ve got products like Botega and there’s nothing entry-level about it, it’s the Prosecco equivalent of a Chablis.”
However, across the board, on-trade consumers were beginning to take note of better quality wines when drinking out, he claimed.
“We’re seeing a little bit of an improvement in the quality of wine people are drinking and they are not accepting poor quality when they go out to eat or socialise,” said Graves.
“For us that’s great, but it means we’ve had to be a bit more interesting in the way we work. Gone are the days of putting a pinot grigio or a merlot on a wine list.”
As with many categories within the alcohol sector, consumers are becoming more educated about wine and want to have better experiences.
“Whereas people used to drink it as a drink, but now they’re experiencing it as a high-quality product,” said Graves.
Not set to flood pub wet sales
Despite increased interest in the category, wine was not set to flood pub wet sales just yet, he added.
But to boost sales and make a wine offer stand out, Graves suggested using smaller family-owned producers and growers with a story.
Failing that, look to work with bigger producers who have relationships with the smaller producers to deliver provenance, which pubs are better positioned to do than retailers.
Graves said: “The on-trade doesn’t follow retail at all. Retail is much more about impulse buying unless you go to a specialist, whereas on-trade is much more considered.
“People are thinking about what they’re drinking much more, it’s not the impulse buy, it’s about ordering good food and what they’re going to order with it.”
Meanwhile, Bibendum owner Conviviality issued a warning yesterday (21 March) that it would go bust unless it could secure a significant amount of funding to pay off debts and tax.
Bibendum interview by The Morning Advertiser editor Ed Bedington.