Get your alcohol sales sparkling this Christmas

christmas alcohol with red wine in a glass

Consumers might leave Christmas shopping until the last minute, but if you’re a wholesaler, you can never start planning too soon.

Let’s face it, time-strapped shoppers are leaving their Christmas shop later and later. Traditionally, the best time for retailers to start getting out the festive lines is in the two weeks before Christmas and the week between Christmas and New Year.

But with many multiple retailers launching their ranges as early as September, are wholesalers missing a trick by not helping retailers to do the same?

Whether celebrating inside or outside the home, consumers are generally willing to spend far more at Christmas to trade up, but capturing that premium spend requires careful planning. “Four out of 10 retailers leave it as late as December to start stocking seasonal products, potentially missing out on an opportunity to inspire shoppers,” says James  Middleton, channel director for impulse at Pernod Ricard UK.

More than a quarter of independent and symbol group retailers’ sales come from premium whiskies, according to Middleton, who adds that premium spirits account for a third of spend during the festive season, compared with 25% during the rest of the year, presenting a “huge opportunity” for retailers and wholesalers who get it right.

Early birds

Scotland’s JW Filshill started its festive sell-in this summer. “We’re expecting our best Christmas ever due to forward planning,” says managing director Simon Hannah. “Our team have been pre-selling a range of 30 different licensed Christmas gift packs since June – we have everything from premium boxed wines and ports, to champagnes with branded glasses.”

Appreciating that some retailers have limited storage space, Filshill offers its retailers the option of staggered deliveries in the run-up to Christmas. This is hugely helpful to many businesses with limited storage space, including bars and pubs.

“Our challenge at Christmas is that we only get the special deals if we pre-order and accept early delivery of stock,” says Steve Kerr, director of the Rose & Crown pub in Huddersfield. “But that’s not always suitable for smaller businesses like ours that have limited storage space.”

Kerr uses Today’s member Wilds of Oldham, which allows the business to order as and when it needs to. “It would be great if more suppliers offered this flexibility,” he says.

Variety is the spice

One of the most lucrative categories for licensed wholesalers at Christmas is around gifting. About 31% of wine sales are purchased from convenience and impulse stores at Christmas, making it an important category to take note of.

There is genuine interest from shoppers in receiving wine as a gift – yet retailers don’t offer enough opportunities, according to Shaun Heyes, the channel director at Treasury Wine Estates (TWE).

To help retailers and wholesalers respond, TWE will be offering Wolf Blass Silver Label and Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet in premium, bespoke gift boxes to support retailers with premium gifting. “If you present premium wines in premium packaging, we are confident it will drive incremental sales,” says Heyes.

Hannah at Filshill agrees: “Our most popular Christmas line is a case of six half-bottles of premium wines. Having a selection allows the consumer to explore different varieties – it offers a whole new tasting experience,” he says.

But it’s not just wines that make great gifts. There is an opportunity to package up other popular categories, too, such as craft beer, which hasn’t traditionally been gifted.

“Christmas is probably the biggest time of year for craft beer sales,” says Paul Evison, head of corporate sales at online alcohol retailer Beer Hawk. “It’s affordable, so you can mix and match old favourites with something new. Dad may enjoy receiving a few bottles of his favourite beer and be delighted to also find a couple of craft beers he’s never seen before.”

Evison agrees that variety is key: “Retailers will be looking for suppliers who can provide mixed cases, so that they don’t have to commit their cash flow to unnecessarily large quantities,” he adds.

Add sparkle to sales

One retailer that’s ready to ride the premium wave this Christmas is Spar UK, which has just launched Spar Prosecco Speciale this month. The sparkling wine will give customers the opportunity to trade up from Spar’s Perlezza Prosecco.

While some consumers will trade up at Christmas, there are many that will be sticking to their old favourites, whether they are celebrating at home or at their local pub. Kerr at the Rose & Crown says he avoids the festive upsell altogether.

“The last thing we want is for customers to feel like they’re paying more for something just because it’s Christmas. After all, if we don’t sell it, we are stuck with it.”

The businesses that get the balance right, maintaining a good “festive atmosphere” without the “overkill”, will do well, he says.

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