The last 15 months have polarised the on and off-trades like never before. Whilst retailers struggled to keep up with demand from customers holed up at home for much of the time, the on-trade has either been completely shut or operating on half measures, dictated to by the rule of six and social distancing rules. But rather than look enviously at what the off-trade has been able to do, Harry Crowther believes the best on-trade operators will be taking lessons, analysing what wines were actually sold and then use those findings in re-imagining the wine offers in their restaurants, bars and pubs. Here he explains why.
Harry Crowther continues his thought provoking series of articles looking at how the on-trade can improve the support given to front line staff as part of his Grain to Grape training programme.
Before the shit hit the fan last March, my partner, Hollie, and I made the decision to move up north. At the time I had a solid amount of bottles of wine knocking about the gaff. I took a rough, finger in the air stock take when we loaded our lives up into the rental van, and landed on a respectable number of around 300. Safe to say, that stock take has taken an absolute battering in the last year or so (I can’t actually bring myself to admit what the current number is- under the danger of looking like I have a problem, which I do. I love wine. So, sue me).
My point being, the pandemic has done precious little to diminish my thirst for wine. I was sipping on my morning coffee the other day, and in comes an email from Wine Intelligence telling me all about how consumer buying patterns have been affected by the ‘trauma’ of Covid-19.
Trauma is one word for it.
Whilst this article focuses solely on the off-trade spending patterns of the traumatised wine drinker, I still think its relevant because these new habits are the only thing the on-trade actually has to go on as we navigate a summer of reopening trade.
“By most estimations, wine has had a good pandemic in the UK”, outlines Richard Halstead of Wine Intelligence.
What next for the on-trade?
As you’d expect, the grocers have benefitted the most. As have online retailers – and hats off to anyone who pivoted quickly to service this demand. Well-known brands are also winning, and more interestingly, so are higher priced wines. This got me thinking. As operators in the on-trade, what can we learn from this? Should these findings dictate how we go about writing our wine lists for our customers?
A “focus on the familiar” seems to manifest itself in uncertain times, writes Wine Intelligence’s Halstead. Interestingly this is also a by-product of trauma self-therapy according to Wine Intelligence’s article written exactly one year before. What the UK has seen is a greater focus and consumption on the more familiar wines, be it your Chilean Merlot’s, or your Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc’s of the world. These have seen growth in not just sales volume, but spend as well.
Now you’re speaking my language. “A desire to seek out a more indulgent product” seems to go hand in hand with the UK wine drinker putting her or his hand further in their pocket. So might this be a time for you to take a look over your wine list? Maybe not, but if you’ve got a Pinot Grigio at the house end of your list, you might want to rethink.
If the off-trade behaviours are anything to go by then we probably need to give guests the chance to trade up on their favourite wines. Be brave, the chances are they’ll go for it.
Given that wine consumption in the UK has been sliding for years now – regardless of the Covid crisis – it’s good to know that consumption didn’t really drop in 2020. And if I’m anything to go by, people just want more of it. On top of that, we are now willing to spend a little more on the wines we love.
Here’s something else you might have noticed: focus on local. As Wine Intelligence says: “In times of stress, our tendency as humans has always been to become inward looking and value our local communities.” You know where this is going. Get an English wine on your list.
I’m not going to sit here and pitch the quality of English wine because I don’t need to. Covid has pricked the conscience of all of us, and so many of your customers are now buying and supporting local. It’s important your wine list reflects this notion, not just with local wines, but ones with sustainable messaging too. Note that wine drinkers in the US increased their affinity to Californian wines during the pandemic… just saying.
I think we should be taking notice of how our customer is behaving in the wine aisle. Trauma and Covid come hand in hand for so many. It might be a bit shrink-y, but if focusing on the familiar is a sub-conscious remedy for the struggles of a pandemic, then maybe it should be a conscious choice for the modern wine list.
You might be thinking, “my customers don’t come to my restaurant to buy what they get off the shelf”… OK, fair enough, point taken. But when they do want to buy something more familiar, price it high – they’ll go for it.
What to do at the ‘house’ end? Well, if your guests don’t come in for the standard wines that they buy off the shelf, then spread their wings. Imports of Romanian wine are up 55% versus 2019… opportunity knocks. Flirt with it, find a more familiar varietal from a less familiar country. There is nothing wrong with listing a Slovenian Ribolla, just make sure that your team knows the wine and are confident with what is going to be a fast-moving line, there will be questions for sure, but that’s not a bad thing.
Final two cents
Get comfortable with the obscure wines of the world and stick them on the list. Make sure they are cheaper than your ‘classics’, and make sure the more familiar wines of the world are punching at the top – or usually bottom – of the list. Any questions, just holla….
- If you want to learn more about what wines to list and how to effectively train your on-trade staff to sell your best wines and create the best possible experience for your staff, drop Harry Crowther a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has also created his own online and in person wine training courses aimed at front line staff through his Grain to Grape business. Go to his website to find out more.