Blog: Olly WehringCalais looking to trade white vans for wine connoisseurs

Olly Wehring | 22 November 2006

With border trade between Dover and Calais continuing its inexorable slide, some drinks retailers in the French seaside town are going for the ‘class’ factor.

But after a two-day press visit there last week, I stand to question whether the average UK punter is as classy as they would like. One of the wine merchants I visited, Calais Vins, reports to be an exception to the Calais market by posting year-on-year sales gains.

The store has gone for a range of good quality international wines, beers and spirits, ahead of quantity. Another tactic is to educate incoming customers, myself included, by setting up an in-house wine bar, or ‘coin de dégustation’.

Such an approach is a far cry from singlet-wearing Brits loading 99p Hock and 20p beer into white vans in the past, and has worked better than the path taken by the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Auchan - who seem to be languishing somewhere in between.

However, this model relies somewhat on the wine consumer veering towards expert level. And, while a segment of the UK market is certainly heading in this direction, the question of sustainability remains.

Surely it is the maturation of the UK marketplace that will dictate when the day-trippers are ready to swap Calais ‘vans’ for Calais ‘Vins’?


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