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    Grocery Stores Offer Holiday Wine Tasting

    Napa Technology part of try-before-you-buy trend

    Wine buyers have a little something to look forward to while shopping in their local grocery store. Often considered endless aisles of unknown options, grocery stores today are adopting new technology that allows shoppers to taste wine before they buy it.

    Indeed, with grocery stores increasingly putting a greater emphasis on their wine programs, including a focus on marketing and customer and employee education, wine preservation and dispensing systems, coupled with unique POS displays, are going a long way in helping to enhance the purchase decision-making process.

    Major grocery chains are on the cutting edge of wine technology by providing customers with self-service wine dispensing systems that they can use to explore tastes of wines in advance of purchasing the whole bottle. Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans was one of the first national grocers to adopt the trend toward automated, self-service wine tastings with its installation of the WineStation by Napa Technology.

    Matthews, N.C.-based Harris Teeter is also using the WineStation as part of its grocery store wine marketing mix in both its flagship locations, as well as its newest concept 201central. This newest innovation from Harris Teeter focuses solely on providing the shopper with the finest selections in wine, beer and specialty foods.

    Southwestern supermarket leader H-E-B, based in San Antonio, Texas, also identified Napa Technology’s WineStation for operation in high-profile locations, allowing its customers to sample a wide range of wines to enhance their overall shopping experience.

    “It’s all part of a larger focus on the try-before-you-buy trend in wine sales,” says Jayne Portnoy, VP of marketing and brand strategy, at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Napa Technology. “Savvy grocery stores realize that wine tastings create a celebratory atmosphere for their customers and lead to more bottle and case sales. Many of our clients, including H-E-B, Harris Teeter, Giant Eagle and Kroger have installed WineStation dispensing systems in their stores, not just as a way to build customer loyalty, but also because letting their customers taste the wine before they buy it leads to a dramatic, in some instances 30 percent, increase in sales.”

    The WineStation has an LCD screen that can be programmed to communicate the wines’ flavor profile to make the shopping experience less intimidating and take some of the guesswork out of the process for consumers. “Whether they’re buying wine for themselves, or as a gift, consumers are more likely to be happy with their purchases when they get to taste it first,” adds Portnoy.

    In today’s competitive environment, Portnoy continues, grocers understand the need to create a unique and inviting experience for their shoppers, so extending sampling to the wine isles was a natural fit for many. The use of the WineStation and its ability to communicate messaging through the LCD screens also allows grocers to drive additional purchases such as wine and cheese or food pairings in alternate locations of the store.

    Says Arthur Maille, wine consultant at ABC Fine Wine & Spirits in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.: “These machines are a way to get people to try new things. Sometimes, customers will take home a bottle that they wouldn’t ordinarily have chosen, had they not been able to sample it first.” According to Maille, the average number of featured bottles sold while on tap used to be 60-70, but has since jumped to over 100 since the WineStation was installed.

    Investing in Education

    A number of grocery store wine buyers note that in addition to offering tastings, wine departments staff members are expected to taste new wines themselves so they can help customers make better choices. “We have our employees taste the wine they’re selling so they can make good recommendations to our customers,” said Kevin Forsaith, wine director at Draeger’s market in Menlo Park, Calif.

    But the education aspect of the trend is not limited to the West Coast. In addition to their recent installation of Napa Technology’s WineStation dispensing system, H-E-B has invested in an extensive training program for wine department management and staff who are trained by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, an organization that bills itself as, “the foremost international body in the field of wines and spirits education.”

    As wine continues to play a bigger part in American cooking and dining, particularly around the holidays, grocery stores will undoubtedly find more ways to promote it. In coming years, consumers in the U.S. can expect to see more innovation in the storing, dispensing, and selling of wine.

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