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While the economy isn’t exactly roaring back to life, it does seem to be getting back on its legs. As a result, more consumers are treating themselves to little luxuries, like a glass of wine with dinner. That indulgence is also being driven by ongoing reports on the health benefits of wine in moderation.
The flipside of this is that a vast majority of shoppers – more than 70 percent, according to some estimates – say that choosing a wine can be nerve-wracking and stressful. This selection anxiety only increases if the wine is for a gift or a party. Even putting a sommelier in a store isn’t always the answer; many shoppers find that dealing with an expert is more intimidating than helpful. Not to mention the added cost in labor.
For retailers looking for ways to respond to their shoppers’ needs when it comes to wine, there are simple steps to take that don’t require hiring an army of wine stewards.
Here are three basic things a typical wine buyer will find helpful:
- Expert Ratings: This is the single most effective sales tool. Showing a shopper a rating from Wine Spectator will drive extra sales for that wine -- period. This approach won’t solve all the issues, for a couple of reasons. One, not all wines carry a rating. Second, the rating only goes with a particular vintage year, but virtually no winery changes UPCs with vintage. There’s a chance that a wine receiving a 91 rating won’t be available for the ranked vintage, but the UPC will be the same.
- Food Pairings: Many shoppers are looking for a wine to go with a specific dinner menu, and presenting wines with information such as “Great with Salmon” or “Goes Well with Steak” will help narrow the selection. In addition, the simple fact that there’s some information about the wine can make a difference in shopper perception.
- Tasting Notes: These are descriptive taste profiles, like “hint of blackberry with a smooth finish.” Depending on the shopper, this may or may not be useful, so they’re best used sparingly. And keep it simple: Less is more when it comes to taste profiles.
These are three straightforward and easy-to-execute ideas that will have an immediate impact on wine sales. Many national and regional food stores are hiring corporate dietitians; there is an opportunity to create a similar wine steward position that can provide insight and information across many stores, rather than just one. But that still leaves the question of how to best communicate with the shopper who is in the store and looking for something new to try.
The best way is to place the information right on the shelf – on the tag itself, in fact. Wine shoppers look at bottles and labels, and when selecting a wine they haven’t tried before, they’ll often pick up the bottle and read every word on the label. This is the same behavior of shoppers buying analgesics or other medicines. More information is better, and adding a wine rating or pairing ideas right on the shelf tag will improve the overall shopping experience.
Once again, the question of vintages needs to be addressed, and with the way wines are currently bottled and labeled, there’s no easy way to manage the transition of vintage years from one to the next. Whether this is handled internally or outsourced, it’s critical to ensure that vintages are tracked and the relevant information is changed when the vintage changes.
The next step is to start offering suggestions to shoppers about wine. This can be as simple or as complex as the retailer wishes. Simple ideas are to group wines together that have similar taste profiles, such as on an end cap or stand-alone display. More complex -- and an area of growing interest -- is to use social media and algorithms to make suggestions. That approach is beyond the scope of this article, but for those wanting to make their wine departments true destinations, the technology and know-how are available.
Starting small and simple, and expanding as sales go up, is a great way to approach this opportunity; it’s not necessary to make huge bets here in terms of financial investment or other resources. As shoppers slowly expand their discretionary budgets and start buying wine again, it’s a perfect time to execute some of these ideas to address the anxiety of wine buying and gain the gratitude – and loyalty – of wine buyers.
Jeff Weidauer is VP of marketing and strategy for Vestcom International Inc., a Little Rock, Ark.-based provider of integrated shopper marketing solutions. He can be reached at [email protected], or visit www.vestcom.com.
Ones From (and for) the Heart
As Peggy Rowan, founder of Los Angeles-based HeartSmart Wine tells it, the product was inspired by such cultural currents as “The Red Wine Diet” by Roger Corder, “The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife” by Marianne Williamson, and Dr. Oz and Oprah Winfrey discussing on television the benefits of red wine and the importance of giving back to those in need.
According to the wine’s website, its specific cardiovascular advantage comes from naturally occurring polyphenols, or antioxidant compounds, which are created during fermentation in all red wines, but can be extracted in higher amounts to provide more heart-healthy benefits, as is the case with HeartSmart.
However, as Rowan’s influences show, HeartSmart isn’t just about doing things for the heart, but also from the heart.
The organizations that benefit from sales of the wine are the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, which treats spinal cord injuries; the Rolling Dog Ranch, where disabled animals are housed and properly cared for; and the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund, which provides higher education for the children of parents killed or wounded while serving.
Additionally, HeartSmart labels feature the work of Ann Ruth, who is paralyzed from the neck down and holds the brush between her teeth to create art.
Toasting the Recession
As unpleasant an experience as it was (and still is) for most Americans, the Great Recession may have had the intended positive effect of driving more people to drink – at lower prices.
“A byproduct of the Great Recession was that nearly all wine consumers found themselves trading down a price point or two,” notes Don Sebastiani Jr., president and CEO of Sonoma, Calif.-based Don Sebastiani & Sons. “I think many folks were surprised to find that they could still get great-quality wines at nearly every price point if they put in just a little bit of effort to seek them out. While consumers are more willing to spend [more] for wine now, I think they remain a bit savvier and more demanding about what they expect to get out of a wine at particular price points.”
Tom Steffanci, president of White Plains, N.Y.-based Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, believes that the financial crisis kick-started the consistently rising wine sales now seen in the grocery channel, because at that time, “consumers discovered the buying power of supermarkets meant they could offer greater value.”
And as wine drinkers’ finances steadily improve, food retailers will continue to reap the benefits. As Cary Kloster, senior marketing manager for Paterson, Wash.-based Columbia Crest, points out: “The $8-to-$10 and $10-to-$15 categories are growing in grocery, and we believe this is due to the economic recovery.”
According to Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen, total wine dollar sales in food retailers with sales of $2 million or more for the 52 weeks ending Jan. 19, 2013, were up 5.1 percent.
Drinks from Down Under
Marketed by White Plains, N.Y.-based Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, Australia’s Yellow Tail, the No. 1 imported wine brand in the United States, is leveraging the latest wine trends with three new offerings.
Following the successful launch of Sweet Red Roo last year, Sweet White Roo is a white wine with tropical notes from a blend of Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. Created to capitalize on the current popularity of red blends, Big Bold Red features the flavors of very ripe crushed raspberries and strawberries, along with a hint of vanilla. Pink Moscato, launched in limited release in February, with a nationwide rollout set for August, is a “blush” Moscato with bright strawberry and floral notes and some fizz.
The suggested retail prices for all three wines are $7.99 per 750-milliliter bottle and $12.99 per 1.5-liter bottle.
“Our expertise is identifying consumer needs in the marketplace and fulfilling those needs with innovative new wines,” noted Deutsch President Tom Steffanci. “Like all wines in the Yellow Tail portfolio, these wines are ideal for entertaining and casual meals. The flavors are brilliant and food-friendly, and the price point is accessible.”
Wine Promos That Work
What are wine companies doing to give their products an edge in supermarkets?
For White Plains, N.Y.-based Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, the answer is “an awful lot of customized promos matched to grocers’ needs,” according to President Tom Steffanci, who cites thematic point-of-sale materials from which retailers can “pick and choose.” Themes change, but standard elements include case cards, neck hangers, posters, pole toppers and coupons. A recent example was a large Christmas tree piece for the company’s imported Yellow Tail brand over the winter holidays.
Flexibility in seasonal promotions is a component of other suppliers’ programs as well. “We have in-store displays that can be changed out by holidays – easily transforming from a Halloween theme to Christmas, without losing the floor space,” notes James Nunes, VP, marketing services & strategy at St. Helena, Calif.-based Trinchero Family Estates (TFE), of its popular Ménage a Trois line.
Even more than for the major holidays, plenty of innovation and creativity are required for other, less obvious days of celebration. For its most recent annual “Time With Dad” Father’s Day promotion, which had a “Fishing With Dad” theme, Sonoma, Calif.-based Don Sebastiani & Sons featured “this amazing ramshackle fish shack that looks like it was plucked right off the Maine coastline,” enthuses President and CEO Don Sebastiani Jr. “They’re actually made by a company in Texas using distressed recycled wood, which gives them a real authentic feel and makes each piece truly one of a kind.”
Corporate responsibility also plays a major role. For its Josh line – named for winemaker Joseph Carr’s father, a veteran -- Deutsch raised money for the San Antonio-based nonprofit Operation Homefront, a group that aids military families, in an effort Steffanci characterizes as a “tremendous success.” Supported by POS signage and dog-tag neck hangers, the campaign also connected with local military organization channels, garnering a “huge response” from consumers, particularly families, whom Steffanci hails as the “unsung heroes” of the military.
Deutsch also “pulled together quickly after Hurricane Sandy,” making a $60,000 donation to the Red Cross and encouraging others to give as well, for which the company “received great feedback,” according to Steffanci, who notes that the secret to running successful campaigns of this nature is to select one’s partners carefully and not to treat one’s chosen causes in an exploitative manner.
Among other wine companies, TFE has seen success with its Trinity Oaks “One Bottle One Tree” promotion, which has helped plant about 8 million trees in partnership with Silver Spring, Md.-based nonprofit Trees for the Future. Although the program is year-round, in-store promotions take on “special significance” during Earth Month in April, according to Nunes.
A double-barreled strategy has proved successful as well. “At the end of 2012, Columbia Crest ran an in-store promotion in partnership with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association,” notes Cary Closter, senior marketing manager for the Paterson, Wash.-based winery. “Columbia Crest … donated up to $100,000 to local food banks, and provided consumers with savings off beef purchases. This two-pronged approach of cause marketing along with a consumer savings offer worked well, so we’re planning to repeat the program again this year.”
Reinventing the Classics
Its offerings are already strong performers – Columbia Crest Grand Estates wines have always been known to over delivery in quality for their price, and we believe this is why the wines perform so well in the category,” asserts Cary Closter, the Paterson, Wash.-based winery’s senior marketing manager – but the product line is aiming to win even more fans.
“The big news with Columbia Crest Grand Estates this year is the launch of a new package,” notes Closter. “The goal [is] to appeal to new consumers while maintaining our current fan base. The new look incorporates design elements to improve shelf presence, such as a crest-shaped label, and increase consumer trial and awareness. The former Grand Estates package was very traditional, and in order to appeal to new consumers, the package has evolved to what we call a ‘modern classic’ look.
Beyond more attractive packaging, Closter believes that “consumers are interested in exploring new varietals, or a ‘twist’ on classic varietals. We think this is due to millennials’ increased interest in wine. In August 2012, Columbia Crest launched a new product, the Grand Estates Unoaked Chardonnay, this is a great example of a classic varietal that ‘reinvented’ by not aging it in oak.”