Wholesalers that understand wine best will survive the market’s latest upheavals.
With consumers more knowledgable, margins more profitable and a distinct lack of the media scrutiny blighting tobacco and super strength lager, the world’s vineyards are producing a growing opportunity for on-trade wholesalers.
The exciting UK wine market is, however, shifting as new players arrive and begin developing a level of service that sets them apart from competitors. Laurie Davis, wine controller at on-trade specialist wholesaler Matthew Clark, says the traditional model for the on-trade in the UK is getting “squeezed”, with everyone from traditional cash & carries to off-licence specialists and the multiples all upping their game.
He says: “There are so many players coming into the market; you’ve got Booker – Classic Drinks, Majestic and Tesco. So it’s a case of asking, ‘What are we doing that’s different? How can we change?’ That’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Today’s Group has appointed former H B Clark buyer Francesca Sabin to bolster its on-trade presence, and now has 27 independent on-trade members supplying 21,000 pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels across the UK.
In November last year, Guy Farrant, managing director of Booker Wholesale, said the group was putting Classic Drinks together with Makro and Booker “to become the new force in the on-trade”.
Tesco and Sainsbury’s both say that they are not supplying foodservice and on-trade outlets using home delivery. However, since acquiring Giraffe Restaurants in 2013, Tesco has been busy creating ‘retail destinations’ by launching restaurants close to its supermarkets, including recent openings in Ellesmere Port and Ipswich. The menu offers wine ranging from a 125ml glass of Spanish rosé for £4.25 up to a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne for £39.50.
This means every wholesaler selling alcohol to pubs, bars and restaurants should consider what they must do differently and what they do best. The old model of simply moving SKUs from depot to bar or shelf is no longer fit for purpose, according to Matthew Clark’s Davis. Today, it is essential to ensure your customers pick the wine that suits, their business and their customers.
“You’ve picked the wine – now let us help you sell the wine,” he says. This can be a case of putting together wine lists, including food-matching suggestions and an ‘owner’s recommendation’, in addition to a house wine.
The opportunity in the on-trade is growing in part because customers are becoming more adventurous. Andrew Wild, co-managing director of Wilds Premier Drinks Distributor, says: “Consumers are growing in confidence about which bottles to choose in restaurants.” But if diners do not know which wine is best, they will rely on the establishment to tell them.
Sandra Hallett, landlady of the White Hart, Thatcham, says: “We can usually make 60% margin on bottles of wine, even more if we sell it by the glass. We tend to stick to what’s popular and what’s on promotion. We’ve always bought what we know people like, but if wholesalers can advise us with what is trending in the area, that’d be a huge help.”
The good news for pubs is that customers are increasingly buying by the glass.
“They’re trying something new or trialling different types of wine in one evening,” says Sarah Gandy, international marketing manager at Distell. “We’re also seeing an increase in the popularity of half-bottles of champagne, as customers can try something new without committing to a full bottle.”
It’s clear that the wholesalers who become known for their understanding of the wine category will be the ones that will thrive.