Consumer confidence has not been affected by the uncertainty around Brexit and has neither dented wine sales or changed purchasing behaviour, the Wine Society has said.
Speaking to db at its tasting recently, the Wine Society’s head of buying Pierre Mansour said the members’ organisation had expected to see tough trading and a possible change in consumer behaviour towards the end of last year in the wake of last summer’s Brexit vote, but that this fear had not materialised.
“In November we were predicting things might get quite tough and we might see a change in consumers behaviour similar to what we saw in 2008, but that has not happened and we had the best ever trading at Christmas,” Mansour told db.
Champagne sales he added, had been particularly good, “probably the best we’ve ever had”.
Initially, the Society thought customers might be stocking up in anticipation of prices going up on the back of the exchange rate, but it has continued to see consumers trade up.
“We looked at the first few months with trepidation, but so far we are hitting our target plan, which is very encouraging,” Mansour explained. “We’re seeing our customers trading up and spending more per bottle, and we’ve been seeing that as an upward trend for 18months. It started before [the] Brexit [vote] and has continued.”
He added that although there was “lots of uncertainty” across the world and we were living in unusual political, economical and social times, Brits were good at saying ‘life’s too short, let’s carry on enjoying life’.
Although the cost of importing wine has become more expensive, Mansour said the organisation had been able to “hold back on increasing prices until now.”
“Obviously the big factor is the effect Sterling and that has an impact – it is costing us more to buy from Europe,” he said.
The Wine Society’s Pierre Mansour
Areas that had become very popular with its members and which the buyers been keen to develop included the South of France, Spain and Italy.
“They offer fantastic value for money, individuality and real, local, authentic flavours,” he argued.
The 2008 recession had prompted the resurgence in interest in Spanish wines beyond Rioja, he noted, one of the positives of the credit crunch that had accelerated over the last 18 months.
“It had always been difficult to persuade members to buy Spanish wine that wasn’t Rioja but with the [financial] crisis, the significant factor was price, so they started trying wines from the lesser known Denominaciones de Origen and realised how good they are,” he explained
“So now we are covering a range right across Spain, and as we do in Italy, we focus pretty much on the indigenous grapes – even though those countries can make good international styles, our feeling is that when people buy Italian or Spain they want it to have an Italian or a Spanish flavour.”
Italian and Spanish fine wines were also very popular he noted – although French wine still accounted for around 50% of total sales.
The Wine Society has also built on these areas in its own label range, under its The Society and Exhibition ranges, with the addition of a Sicilian Reserve Red, and a Valpolicella Ripasso 2015 under its The Society range, and a single-varietal alvarinho from Adega de Monção and a McLaren Vale GSM (grenache, shiraz and mourvèdre) 2015 under the flagship Exhibition range. New additions soon to be added include as yet unnamed wines, an own-label Cape blend from South Africa, an English still wine (following the introduction of the an Exhibition English sparkling wine in 2015), and a white wine from the Danube in Eastern Europe.
“Last year we introduced Society’s Austrian Grüner Veltliner, in the middle of the year, and it had an incredibly amazing effect on our Austrian sales – they’ve trebled since we’ve introduced it,” Mansour said. “We’ve all known in the industry Austria makes terrifically fine wines – and we’ve got a hunch that Austria might be back, and there’s a lot of excitement there. And there are so many fun, interesting things coming out of Eastern Europe.“
Another area he said was set for resurgence was Beaujolais, which had seemed to have lost its way a bit in terms of consumer perception, although not in terms of production.
“The 2015 vintage and also the 2014, have a wonderful richness of flavour, powerful, utterly gorgeous wines and I think Beaujolais will get a lot of friends with the 2015 vintage, which has this extra level of concentration and generosity and weight, but still that lovely vitality.”
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