“Fine wine” and “German discount chain, Lidl” are words that don’t often appear in the same sentence, but that’s about to change.
In a £12 million promotion, Lidl is unleashing 48 French wines next week (4 September) across its 600+ UK stores, with prices up to £25.99 for the unclassified Haut-Médoc Château Sociando Mallet 2008.
The firm’s wine buyer Ben Hulme broke off from preparations to speak exclusively to the drinks business:
It just feels like the right time. We started our “Wine Cellar” campaign a couple of years ago, and tested the water with eight wines. They were a success and sold pretty well. We’ve been growing the concept and our most recent promotion was 24 wines. So it seems the right time to be taking it the next level.
Are you nervous?
I’m massively excited about it. We’ve been trying to build up a way of doing things we’re happy with. We work with a number of MWs led by Richard Bampfield who taste all the wines for our Wine Cellar, provide feedback and tasting notes, and give us a rating out of 100. Having consultant MWs lends a bit of weight to what we’re doing. The pricing ranges from £4.99 to £25.99 and if we persuade customers to trade up, I want to be able to explain why.
Why are half the wines from Bordeaux – a region the rest of the High Street struggles with?
Going back a few years we had a generic Bordeaux and a Bordeaux superieur – that was it. We then tested the water with a Médoc and a St. Emillion Grand Cru, and they both did well, so I was pretty confident Bordeaux would work for us. Secondly we were really impressed by the quality we were being offered and the value.
Ben Hulme is senior buying manager at Lidl UK
Do people actually understand the difference between ‘value’ and ‘price’?
Good question. I’d like to think customers are pretty savvy when it comes to that, but you’re right I can tell you all day it’s the best value on the market but it’s still expensive. So, is there a slight risk? Yes, of course, all these things are. We’ve not been hugely known in the past for selling fine wine, but what we’re trying to do is really establish ourselves as being a great value retailer of fine wine.
Who’s this French promotion really aimed at?
We’re almost doubling our range to give our customers a better selection of more up-market wines, but it’s also aimed at people who have not considered us before. People who do understand the higher end of the market and see that a Margaux at under £20 is an extremely keen price, and it’s the same for a Premier Cru Champagne at £16.99.
Chevalier de Lascombes 2011 is £18.99 at Lidl
If fine wine is about taking Lidl up-market, what’s with the £12.99 bagpipes (in Scotland)? Are you sending out mixed messages?
Well I’m absolutely not involved in non-food, but I always think the non-food aisle is quite fun. There are always random things in there from kayaks to pressure jets.
Are we Brits getting over our status anxiety about which plastic bag we’re seen with?
I think it’s happened already, and I think the numbers speak for themselves. At Lidl we’ve had really strong growth, up 23% year on year. People are beginning to understand that just because we’re cheaper than other supermarkets; it doesn’t mean the quality is suffering.”
Any personal recommendations from the promotion?
Two of my particular favourites are the Margaux, Chevalier de Lascombes 2011 (£18.99) and a Montagne St Emillion Château Vieux Ferrand 2010 (£8.99)
Meanwhile, see below for a couple of recent Lidl advertisements.