The UK wine trade is one sick puppy. All of us – retailers, brand owners, producers, bottles, designers, marketers, PRs, press - deep down know this to be true.
Many have been trying to draw attention to this – ranging from Robert Joseph years ago to Michael Cox (Wines of Chile) and Richard Cochrane (Bibendum) in the latest issue of Harpers. Many others think it but can’t say it out loud.
But everyone is struggling to find a solution. I would like to venture one here.
The UK wine trade is in the early stages of terminal decline. Retailers have collectively chosen the wine aisle as a competitive battleground and trade driver, and as a result the majority of consumers are now trained to buy on promotion – it’s etched on their DNA. Margins have been reduced for suppliers and producers, and VAT & Duty increases have further squeezed possible profits. And as if that wasn’t bleak enough, wines are becoming increasingly homogenised, especially through the major multiples.
The constant goal of delivering what the consumer wants is not, in the long run, the best thing for the consumer – it sparks a vicious circle of reduced prices, squeezed margins and reduced quality.
Wine has lost its way, We need something drastic to stop this spiral, build value back into the chain for all, ensure the long-term health of the UK wine trade, encourage and afford wine diversity and, finally, promote wine in a responsible way. An electric shock to the heart is vital – but not something we can do ourselves (unless you are James Bond in Casino Royale with a modified Aston Martin).
I propose that the UK drinks trade petitions the Government to legislate for restrictions to apply to the sale of alcohol on promotion. This would limit extent, depth, frequency and timing. My original idea was an out-right ban, but that might be a bridge too far from a standing start.
Why involve the Government
Why not just introduce this as an industry initiative? Because it would never happen and would never work. It is illegal for retailers to discuss such an initiative amongst themselves, and it would also require every retailer to behave in the same way and abide by a single set of rules.
- Value is built back into the supply chain – and for all links
- The subsequent stability of wine prices will be a more responsible way to retail wine, and will better allow customers to judge wine value vs quality themselves
- It will allow wine suppliers and brands to communicate about quality, taste, story and provenance again, rather than about price
- It will position the drinks trade as a responsible sector, trying to make a real difference to its suppliers, its customers and to society as a whole. It should appease the anti-drinks lobby, being a proactive, industry-backed initiative asking the Government for regulation.
This initiative should be expanded to encompass the entire alcoholic drinks industry, to ensure there is no bleed from wine to other categories and to ensure responsible retailing throughout BWS.
This is not a rant against the supermarkets, or legislation, or consumers – not at all. I’m simply trying to point out that for a number of reasons we, as an industry, are in a bad place – and we need something quite extraordinary to get us out of it.
I’m not asking anyone to make less money, In fact I am asking for the chance to charge the consumer a little more, but in a very transparent way that they will come to appreciate and understand. Unfashionable? Maybe. Naïve? Unrealistic? I don’t think so. I am convinced that we could do it together, with each other’s support.