Comment - Pernod Ricard's Wine Premiumisation: Echo? Echo? Echo?

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Earlier this month, the UK arm of Pernod Ricard invited the drinks press pool to a briefing in London to launch its 'Building Premium Wine Brands' scheme. The programme is designed to target off-trade wine consumers in the country to turn them on to the more premium offerings in the category.

A lack of engagement at the point of purchase for consumers, and a focus on “mass” wine on shop shelves appear to have led to a perceived reluctance by consumers to trade up to more expensive wines. I say perceived reluctance, because Pernod claims to have figures to back up the parlance: the company pointed to a survey that found 58% of wine shoppers are willing to buy a GBP6.50 (US$10.20) to GBP8.50 bottle, but only 11% currently do when in-store.

So, there you have it: the UK wine consumer wants to trade up, but is struggling to find out how to do so.

When I read this story, I was reminded of a chat I had with Constellation Europe's CEO, Troy Christensen, way back in 2007. Even back then, as the wine category in the UK continued to grow at breakneck speed, Christensen was aware that trading up was going to be the only way to stay strong in the long term in the UK.

"In the past," Christensen said at the time, "I think the viewpoint always started with price points and promotion schedules. What we need to really focus on now is branded quality, and we believe that consumers will pay for the quality, but we need to educate a little bit as well."

Fast forward almost five years, and almost everything has changed: The UK, long thought to be the most important wine market in the world, has lost its crown; the global economic downturn put the kibosh on the concept of wine premiumisation in the country's off-trade, and Constellation Europe, which by its own admission found that its premiumisation overtures fell on deaf ears, is now Accolade Wines (with Christensen still at the helm - good to see you can at least rely on some things).

I know it's too easy to look at ideas with arms crossed, sucking air through one's teeth and shaking one's head, but I don't think I'd be alone in suggesting that Pernod had got its work cut out with the wine consumer in the UK. I wouldn't be surprised if Christensen joined me as I kicked Pernod's tyres.

My advice, then, to Pernod's wine folk in the UK? Look east, my friends.

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