Looking back to look forward
Wine is a liquid time capsule. Drinking older vintages not only recalls the weather conditions and winemaking styles of the past, it encourages us to reflect upon our own histories. Such reminiscence often inclines towards romanticised nostalgia. Especially after the second bottle. But looking back is a great way of learning about the future.
For example, the 2007 Off Licence News Wine Report tells us a lot about what has and hasn’t changed in wine retail over the decade.
Back then, the five top-selling off-licence wine brands were, in order, Hardys, Gallo, Blossom Hill, Jacob’s Creek and Stowells. Impressively, Hardys still has the top spot today, and Gallo and Blossom Hill are close behind in second and fourth place. In a sector that
is highly fragmented, brands such as these provide reliable, regular enjoyment for thousands. Their staying power is evidence of their popularity with the mass market.
Elsewhere, there are more differences than similarities. The average bottle price in 2007 was £3.97, compared with something like £5.39 today – that’s an increase of 36%. The main culprit is the duty escalator, introduced in 2008. There seems to be a correlation between increasing prices and decreasing consumption, too – in 2007, total wine sales grew 4% by value whereas today the market is static at best.
Looking ahead, there are reasons to be positive, however. The duty escalator has now been abolished and, while overall wine sales are flat, there is ongoing growth in the sparkling wine category, which offers opportunities to increase the average bottle price in off-licences.
It’s also heartening that the strong discounting culture of the past decade is diminishing. The most innovative retailing innovation mentioned in the 2007 Wine Report was Threshers’ universal three-for-two mechanic. Within two years, the chain had gone bust. Today we have a thriving independent merchant scene, a resurgent Oddbins and Majestic, and a new culture of tasting and in-store drinking, partly made possible by sampling technology from the likes of Enomatic and Coravin.
Such progress would have been very difficult to predict 10 years ago. So what might be happening in wine retail 10 years hence?
There’s every likelihood that big New World wine brands will consolidate their positions and continue to dominate the bestseller charts. Average bottle price will inevitably increase, with the abolition of the duty escalator offset by a weak pound and protracted Brexit. Don’t be surprised if the average bottle price in 2017 has risen by another 36% to reach £7.33. Despite this, independents should thrive while supermarkets battle for the lower end as the influence of the discounters continues to resonate. Consumption trends are harder to predict. Rising prices and increasing anti-alcohol rhetoric from the health lobby give scant cause for optimism. But wine is an ideal tonic in pessimistic times.