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Sing when you’re winning

With competitions and medals proliferating and consumers being encouraged to buy wines on price promotion, does winning matter anymore? Yes, as long as you shout about it, says Penny Boothman

PUT YOURSELF in the consumer’s shoes.  You’re tired, you’re on your way home from a tough day at work and you stop in at your local wine shop – or more commonly, supermarket – to pick a bottle of wine to round off your day.

But what do you choose? Your eyes are so tired from staring at a computer screen all day that you can barely focus on the labels, but what’s this? Some of them have shiny gold and silver stickers on? It’s like someone’s made the decision for you…

"Customers are constantly searching for clues to help them choose from a potentially confusing number of wines.  A third party endorsement whether from a wine journalist or a competition helps customers to choose," comments Derek Strange, head of buying wines, beers and spirits at UK retailer, Waitrose.

Consumers use medals to help them navigate through the mass of bottles in front of them, and the logic is sound – if a room full of wine experts think a wine merits a medal then it’s probably worth a go. 

"Winning an award speaks for itself – the wine is worth drinking!" says Alexandra Ruddell, trade marketing manager at Ehrmanns.  Awards undoubtedly simplify the decision-making process for the consumer.

 "When people are faced with a wall of wines in the supermarket and one has a gold medal, they’re more likely to buy that one than the one next to it," comments Patrick McGrath MW, managing director of Hatch Mansfield. Medals act as signposts, and if your bottle has a medal on, all the signs are pointing to increased sales for your wine.

"I’ve got people buying three mixed cases of Bocksbeutels now [flaskshaped bottles from Franconia], which just wouldn’t have happened before," says independent specialist Noel Young who sells the multi-award winning Franconian range from Horst Sauer.

"It gives people the confidence to try things."  "By their very nature, medal winners are highlighted more on shelf giving greater visibility, which naturally increases the rate of sale on these wines," comments Laura Jewell MW, buyer for France and fine wines at Sainsbury’s.

However, the exact level of sales uptake is not easy to determine.  James Lousada, VP marketing at Southcorp, whose Penfolds range won no fewer than 20 medals at the IWC this year, including Great Value Red of the Year for Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2001, and the Merlot Trophy at the IWSC for Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Merlot 2002, says "it is difficult to judge the true consumer response because of conflicting activity in the cluttered retail environment."

And this seems to be a growing problem.  "There is a danger that as the number of competitions grow, the credibility of all awards may be undermined.  If a plethora of bottles on shelf carry award stickers the consumer will fail to see them as credible discriminators," adds Lousada.

"All shows entered have to be internationally (or locally) recognised, so that they are meaningful for both consumer and trade," This is a common feeling in the industry.  "You’ve got to talk to the trade in terms of the competitions they know about," agrees McGrath.

"Covering your bottles with medals from everywhere I don’t think has relevance."  Competitions that are well known and publicised will naturally carry more weight, and producers should take care in deciding which to enter.

IWC White Winemaker of the Year, Horst Sauer explains, "We decide on which competitions to enter based on their international reputation.  Prizes are important to test how the quality of our wines holds up in the international market."

"Although any award initially looks good in consumers’ eyes, it is obviously more credible to enter and win an award that has some consumer franchise," comments Jeremy Rockett, marketing director of Gonzalez Byass UK.

So does it matter what kind of medal it is? "For us it’s gold or trophy or forget it," says Young, and this is a feeling echoed by most top retailers.  As the number of medals grows, only the top ones count.  Some producers feel dutybound to enter. 

John Cossart of Henriques & Henriques, whose Madeiras won golds this year in Toronto and Portugal, comments, "We want to be recognised and one gold medal for any Madeira means that Madeira is not forgotten.

These competitions are the raison d’etre for many producers, but it is a perilous rope that we tread."  There is a tendency for producers to enter a competition, win a medal, and then sit back and relax, but more must be done to gain the full benefit of such an opportunity.   "It’s down to the producer to make the most of it," explains Young. 

"If you don’t shout about it, then what’s it for? There’s no harm in self-publicity.  No one else is going to do it for you, are they? I think it can definitely have a very positive effect if you grab the bull by the horns and decide to be pro-active behind it."

However, competition wins are an unknown quantity, and difficult to factor into marketing strategy.  "We annually build into our plans an assumption that a percentage of medals will be picked up so that we can leverage them to consumers via shelf talkers at point of purchase, media coverage, advertising etc, trade and internal sales" comments Jacqui Wilson-Smith, marketing manager for Australia and New Zealand at Constellation Wines.

"If we win something really special, ie a Trophy in the IWC, we really go to town and divert additional advertising monies to really shout about it."  Reactive marketing activity is also important, according to Kate Sweet, PR manager for Europe at Brown-Forman wines.

"Awards and medals are not something that can be counted into a marketing plan as a dead cert," she explains.  "We obviously budget each year to account for our entries into the main wine competitions but really, winning a gold or trophy in these awards is often more the cherry on the cake for us."

But winners have to be careful to avoid shortages, "If the wine is going to sell through anyway, then it is pointless to promote it further and risk out-of-stocks, but if the wine is slow moving then everything helps!"  Initially it is up to the producer to promote award success, Jewell explains.

"Producers should advertise in appropriate publications to ensure reaching the right audience, then work closely with retailers to ensure there is plenty of available stock to respond to increased consumer demand and allow for some investment to support the medals, through other promotional activity."

Winning awards for a wine in two or more consecutive years gives added credibility not only to that wine, but also to the producing company.  "In 2003, E&J Gallo won the Mission Hill Trophy for Best Chardonnay Worldwide at the IWSC for a third year," Liz Ramm of E&J Gallo says.

"We’re the only wine company to achieve this."  Fetzer has used a double win to its advertising advantage.  "Our Fetzer Valley Oaks Syrah Rosé has been awarded Best Value Rosé of the Year two years running, for two separate vintages," explains Sweet.

"This has enabled us to use these accolades in our advertising and in other marketing activities. Repeatedly winning awards for particular wines or in a particular range can reflect well on the rest of the wines.

Ultimately, one-off wins are exactly that, and can be forgotten as soon as the next lot of results are released," she argues.  But can an award make it easier to get your wine listed in the first place?  "We do look at all the lists of medal winners.

If there are wines we don’t stock which have won golds/trophies, we taste them where possible and if appropriate, we may consider buying a parcel," Jewell says. 

So it seems it might. "I still taste and make my own decisions, but if something’s won a gold medal it might spur me on to get a sample of something I wouldn’t have tried otherwise," agrees Young. "But it wouldn’t affect if I took the wine or not."

Once these wines are in store it is down to the retailer to capitalise on the opportunity. Lousada agrees: "Extra displays would be the best way of driving sales of medal winners and would help the retailer sell these wines at full RSP.

The research we have undertaken in recent months indicates that shelf barkers drive standout at point of purchase and increase uptake."  Merchants can also benefit by running special promotions of award-winning wines.

Noel Young comments, "We’re selling hundreds and hundreds of cases on the back of the Wine Challenge.  We put together a special mixed selection, which people can buy mail order or retail."

Sainsbury’s promotes competition winners in a similar way.  "We currently have a ‘Gold medal winners case’ and a ‘Winners selection’ in store, or throughour direct sales offer," comments Jewell.

However, there are some inherent problems with marketing competition medals.  "The timing of the release of awards for all the different competitions clashes," says Strange.  "For IWC we know the medals in May but can’t barker them on shelf until September, by which time the wines have moved on to the next vintage, so we can’t use them.

Less than 20% of our wines awarded medals get shelfbarkers so the full commercial potential cannot be fully realised.  Another concern is that the IWSC does not have a consumer magazine to use as a mouthpiece.

It is difficult for customers to understand the difference between a gold from IWC versus one from IWSC or from Decanter."  This is especially important in today’s crowded marketplace as medal-winners find themselves in competition again in store with price promotions.

 "Medals have to compete against all other types of promotion as price promotions have played a bigger part of retailers’ strategy, so the impact of medals on customers may have diminished," adds Strange.

"Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times that third party endorsement in general, whether from positive wine journalist reviews or wine competition winners such as the IWC or IWSC or Decanter etc, do not carry the weight they once did, say a decade ago, when in store price promotion was less intense," comments Simon Legge, marketing director at Brown-Forman.

"As a result, consumers are being increasingly trained to buy on promotion rather than buy for quality in the bottle, which may in turn reduce consumer propensity to try new wines and more premium priced wines as well."

Julian Baker, of Julian Baker fine wines, whose Champagne Blin won a gold medal and Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis range won four golds medals and the Unoaked Chardonnay Trophy at the IWC this year comments, "The uplift created by these awards is very variable and not nearly as good as it used to be.

There is so much competition now and so many other promotions that we don’t see as much of an increase as we did in the old days.  However, it does create customer awareness and reassurance, and it can be vastly profitable from a marketing viewpoint."

As difficult as it is to compete with price promotions, medals can have a bigger impact on some wines.  "I think price promotions will always win out over a medal, but if you’ve got a wine above £5, it’s got a better chance of selling if it’s got a medal on it," says McGrath.


"Awards have the most effect in the above £5 category on nonpromoted wine as a way of getting the consumer to trade up.  If they were only going to spend £5 or £6 they might spend £8 if they see it’s got a gold medal on it," he continues.

"The Holy Grail for us all is the non-price promoted sale and that’s where medals come in."  Retailer awards are just as important for consumer confidence.  Waitrose this year won the IWC Supermarket Wine Retailer award for the fourth time in five years.

"We use the retailer award logos all year round on printed materials, websites etc.  We usually place a full-page advert in selected media.  Plus we use a combination of posters, check-out bars, bagsfor- life and we make sure we mention it in radio advertising as well," comments Strange.

Berry Bros & Rudd was this year crowned International Wine Challenge Wine Merchant of the Year and is making the most of the increased publicity surrounding the award.  "We promote it through both onand off-line advertising, we’ve been doing some adverts in the Financial Times, targeting our core customer groups," comments Andrea Stewart, senior marketing executive.

"The other key area we use is our promotional literature.  As soon as we found out that we’d won it went onto our new price list, and it also went onto a covering letter by our wine director, so we make sure that we announce it to our own customers and any new customers.

We’ve also taken out adverts in Wine and Decanter magazine and we advertise at strategic sites in the tube.  Anything you see from us in the next six months will have the IWC logo on it."

The majority of activity is centred in the off-trade, but with the UK on-trade growing at a faster rate than the total UK wine market (9% vs 4% MAT to Jan/Feb 04, ACNielsen) could winners be missing an important market?

Rockett believes more could be done in this sector.  "I see no reason why this shouldn’t also work in the on-trade, even though consumers are often buying off a list.  It’s a bit more difficult to publicise in this sector, though, as it relies on the bar or restaurant flagging up the medals on their drinks list."

Competition is healthy, there’s no denying it.  "With an offering as wide and varied as the UK wine market, awards set the best apart and provide a certain amount of guidance for the consumer" explains Ruddell.

Medals provide a renewed annual focus for the trade as a whole, which creates a unique marketing opportunity for producers, agents and retailers alike.  "Last but not least, winning awards are also great for employees," says Ramm.  "They are a fantastic motivator – it’s an official recognition that we’re doing a great job."

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