Presented earlier this month at the London International Wine Fair, this month's management briefing for just-drinks members, is our State of the UK Nation 2012 survey. Part two can be found here, while part three continues with the survey's questions.

VIII - Which retail sectors will be most successful in selling wine in 2012, and why: supermarkets; multiple specialists; independents; internet?

  1. Supermarkets
  2. Internet
  3. Multiple specialists
  4. Independents

A new question for this year, and one that elicited a strong and perhaps surprising result. Surprising not for the fact that supermarkets are ranked at the top of the pecking order, but because they were only fractionally ahead of the internet, with a decent gap to multiple specialists and then, a little further behind, independents.

But, delving into the detail of the responses reveals that, of those backing the web, many believe that it is those same supermarkets that are best placed to exploit it, simply because of their scale and their familiar standing with consumers.

Many of those surveyed, however, found it difficult to pinpoint one sector above all others, arguing that each of the four – even the severely depleted multiple specialists – has its own niche within the market, from the volume-driven supermarkets to the enhanced customer service and distinctive offer of the independents.

Comments

“Multiples will continue to dominate, but increased attention being given to independents, who are able to deliver the consumer experience that the multiples do not.” - Lisa Duckenfield, Cellar Trends.

“Supermarkets, because the convenience factor cannot be ignored; internet as it is such an obvious channel for wine (answering both the need for information and the issue of weight of the actual product).” - Anne Burchett, Sopexa.

“Those that best lessen the impact of spiralling grocery sector prices on their customers’ disposable income: the internet is well set for continued growth, offering lower pricing and excellent range and variety; you can expect to see big gains made by the convenience and impulse sector.” - Adam Wyartt, PLB.

IX - Rank the following consumer trends in order of current significance, with reasons: lower alcohol (eg 5.5%) wines; Moscato; Pinot Grigio; Sauvignon Blanc; rosé; sparkling.

  1. Sparkling
  2. Rosé
  3. Sauvignon Blanc
  4. Moscato
  5. Lower alcohol wines
  6. Pinot Grigio

A reworked question from last year, but a broadly similar response at the top end, where rosé and sparkling have swapped places, perhaps signalling continuing concerns that the pink boom might have peaked.

In fact, beyond sparkling with a clear lead at the top, there was little to choose between our other five chosen 'trends', all of which had a number of supporters.

Several respondents highlighted the claims of Sauvignon Blanc and Moscato for the simple reason that they were easily understood and enjoyed by consumers.

However, it was perhaps surprising to see the fast-growing lower alcohol segment languishing in fifth position – with several respondents pointing to growth off a low base and questioning the absolute size of the market.

More than one respondent also suggested that the popularity of Pinot Grigio had plateaued, with many consumers instead increasingly drawn to Sauvignon Blanc and Moscato. And, a few pointed out that some of these trends overlap with one another – most notably sparkling, Moscato and lower alcohol wines.

Comments

“Someone will make this work with real scale in the next few years.”

(On Pinot Grigio): “Been there, done that.” - Dan Bolton, Louis Latour Agencies (on lower alcohol wines).

X - Which wine-producing countries/regions (other than your own, where applicable) will make the greatest impression in the UK over the next 12 months? Why?

  1. Spain (4)
  2. Italy (3)
  3. Chile (1)
  4. Argentina (2)
  5. New Zealand (6)
  6. England (-)

A clear fightback from Europe in this category this year, with Spain and Italy supplanting the South American duo of Chile and Argentina in the top two spots. Why? Many respondents alluded to the weakness of the euro, which can only serve to make all EU wines more competitive in the UK (sterling rates permitting), but just as important a factor was the growing recognition that both countries were producing good-quality, distinctive wines that broke through the one-size-fits-all winemaking philosophy sometimes said to be more prevalent in the New World.

The big loser this year was South Africa, which just two years ago topped these rankings, but fell out of the top six altogether this year – to be replaced by England.

It may be misplaced patriotism or Olympics- and Diamond Jubilee-fuelled optimism, but several people highlighted the huge strides made in the quality of English sparkling wine in recent years – and, more importantly, said this was beginning to feed through in terms of consumer awareness and appetite for the wines.

Outside the top six, an eclectic array of countries and regions were bubbling under, including South Africa, Brazil, Portugal, California and Eastern Europe.

France and Australia? Marginally more popular in terms of responses than Georgia, Austria and Germany.

Comments

“Spain and Italy will increase their presence due to the increase of attractive and interesting wines reaching our shores.” - Nick James, Pol Roger.

“Spain, Italy, New Zealand and Argentina are all showing excellent growth rates in volume and value over the last 12 months and this trend is likely to continue this year.” - Gavin Partington, WSTA.

“English wine: the momentum is with it – the quality, production, consumer, media. Everyone is on the same page, which is just fantastic.” - Dan Bolton, Louis Latour Agencies

XI - Where do you think consumers are getting their wine knowledge from in 2012? How do you seek to influence that information flow?

  • Online media/social websites: mentioned by 63% of respondents (2011: 93%)
  • Retailers/POS: 33% (n/a)
  • Print media: 22% (46%)

We posed this rephrased question for the first time only last year, and the responses have changed quite markedly over the past 12 months.

First, the traditional newspaper/magazine wine column is an increasingly endangered species, and this is reflected in the amount of attention our respondents gave it this year. Most portrayed the influence of print media as declining, and several described typical wine columns as boring and out of touch.

The clear and growing influence of the internet on purchasing decisions was reflected in its position as the most popular response, with social media especially highlighted (see the next few questions for more on this).

But, the biggest news was a huge upswing in the number of people discussing the most direct means of consumer communication of them all – within the retail space and at point of sale. In particular, the efforts of independent retailers to offer their customers better service through tastings and wine education were praised.

Comments

“We believe consumers gain most of their wine knowledge online, as well as via friends/family. We participate in numerous events and tastings each year and the passion that consumers have for more knowledge about wine is always overwhelming.” - Simon Thomas, Pernod Ricard UK.

“It used to be the national papers, but this is no longer so, as editors appear to have dumbed this down. Wine magazines are read by very few people and I feel the majority of new knowledge is coming from progressive independents who use tastings and ‘infotainment’ alongside their suppliers to feed customers the info.” - Nick James, Pol Roger.

“Viewed as a graph, consumer knowledge curves will have remained static over the last three years. Any knowledge-based purchase drivers will have, mostly, been replaced by deal-seeking and, in broad terms, wine knowledge will have been low on the agenda of shoppers.

“There remains the occasion shopper looking for something special that will look beyond the discount and seek reassurance of a wine’s quality. Trusted recommendations are still key here whether in-store, or from friends, bloggers or journalists. So, we focus on effective PR to all sectors of the press, as well as education of our customers via sales and marketing teams.” -Adam Wyartt, PLB.

To read the fourth and final part of this briefing, click here. Part two can be found here.