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Waitrose refreshes range with some ‘brave’ new esoteric wines

Waitrose has added a range of new, more esotetic wines to its range, taking out some of the more expensive lines from its stores, in order to move them to its online only site, Waitrose Cellar.  

Jamie Matthewson, trading manager of wines, told db that the retailer had been “braver” this spring in some of the changes, looking at some more specific styles, and more esoteric wines and was “pretty happy about the level of newness”.

“It’s always a difficult balance to be struck taking things out of the range, because inevitably, someone buys those and we’ve got some really loyal customers,” he explained. “What do you take out? What do you feel isn’t performing well enough to take a chance on something new effectively? And I think we’ve been a little bit braver this spring.”

“There’s so much interest, but at the same some, some core products are tasting fantastic,” he said. “I think there’s something for everyone.”

For example, it has added five new wines to the own brand Loved & Found range, which was launched in 2019 to help customers try lesser known varieties and styles of wine. The additions comprise two rosés, a Aglianico and Susmaniello Rosato Organic IGP Puliga, a sparkling Ribolla Gialla from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region (£8.99), a Gelber Muskateller from Austria and a Portuguese Cerceal Blanco from 33-year-old vines grown on the slopes of the Bussaco mountain range in south of the Dão region.

It has also increased the range of Alberinos this time around, with a Bodegas La Val Albariño 2023 Galicia (16.99) and limited parcel Bodegas La Val Gran Anada Albariño 2019 Galicia from CVNE (29.99). Other additions include a Lentsch Zweigelt 2021 Burgenland (£9.99), and a Viña Arana Gran Reserva 2016 Rioja (£36.99, available in 100 shops), as well as more esoteric wines such as a “very interesting” single barrel botrytised 100% Pinot Gris from Austria’s Burgenland, a Feiler-Artinger On the QT Ruster Ausbruch 2021 on Waitrose Cellar, from a never-to-be-repeated parcel of only 538 bottles. As Xenia Ruscombe-King MW explained, it is very rare to find such an “exceptional” barrel vinified as a single variety, as this would normally go into a field blend.

Other online only wines include a Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Grande Cuvée No.26 NV Champagne (£180) which was aged for a minimum of ten years on the lees, by winemaker Maximilien Bernardeau, a 2022 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Californian brand The Federalist (£19.99) and an impressive Yalumba Vigil Cabernet Shiraz 2017 from the Barossa Valley, Australia (£28.99).

Some fine wines to move online-only

However, Matthewson added that the retailer has reduced its lines in store, taking out some of the “slowest sellers”, which have been moved to online to Waitrose Cellar – not a demotion by any stretch, as the proportion of sales online is “significant”, due to it being a more involved purchase.

“Overall the range actually hasn’t reduced in total number, it’s just the availability in shops is different,” he explained. “What we were finding was that with some of our finest wines or some of our most expensive wines – however you wish to judge it – the proportion of sales on Waitrose Cellar is really significant because it’s a more involved purchase. People want to read about it more, there’s longer dwell time on the website, and it’s not something you throw in your basket in the supermarket. Subsequently stock holdings are quite high so it’s better to utilize that space.”

The decision was less about the cost-of-living crisis and more about “good shopkeeping”, he added, making sure that “you’ve got the right range in the right place” and that capital isn’t tied up on stock that isn’t moving, while boosting the availability and facings of lines that remain in store.

“There are more people buying into a Chianti at £15 [in store] than there are at £50, so if you can satisfy two shoppers without going off-sale by using that space in the branch, then you’re doing the right thing,” he said. “And if it’s still available on the Cellar, where it is more of a considered purchase, then that’s probably probably just good shopkeeping.”

Cost-of living crisis

Matthewson noted however, that the cost-of-living crisis and inflation had affected “everyone”, but people were dealing with it in different ways.

Consumers had managed the changes in different ways, he noted, both consciously and due to circumstances, he noted, with some shoppers buying different brands, others buying the same brands but less often, and others choosing to spend less.

“Some people might be forced into a change,” he pointed out – where for example their £6.99 allocation for wine each week might not have changed, but due to the inflation this may no longer buy the same bottle as it would a year ago.

Combined with the “double-whammy” of duty increasing, for retailers this had been “pretty painful” – but the good vintage step up in quality had proved a boon.

“After we were dealt a bit of a blow with duty change, it’s good to have some vintages that have gone our way,” he said.

 

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