It’s not just supermarkets that have the challenge of bringing their wall of wine more to life for consumers to understand and better engage with. It’s as much a challenge for major pub groups like All Bar One and all the other fascias in the Mitchells & Butlers pub and bar group. Alistair Morrell talks to Lydia Worsey about how the group is looking at new ways to promote and push wines, starting with its flagship wine outlet, All Bar One.
The challenge is on to get consumers to put down their gin and tonics and give wine another go. To ensure wine has a healthy future in the pub sector it needs to start thinking more about the buying, selling, sharing and drinking experience, says Lydia Worsey at Mitchells & Butlers.
Wine is boring and stuffy, so say younger consumers, according to Lydia Worsey, formerly wine category manager for Mitchells and Butlers (MAB) who has now moved over to a marketing manager’s role. What’s more would-be wine consumers are turning their backs on the vine in favour of gin and it is going to take some considerable effort to change their minds. But where there’s an opportunity, there’s a challenge for MAB’s leading wine driven pub fascia, All Bar One.
Twenty years ago All Bar One (ABO) was part, if not the leader, of the UK wine revolution as consumption jumped from eight to almost 20 litres per head per year. The best high streets showcased their ABO’s as a demonstration of being up to the minute, contemporary places to be.
Worsey says the challenge for wine is that it has always mainly appealed to an older demographic, and consumers are actively drinking other products. Cocktails are more ‘Instagrammable’, colourful, and appeal to a younger generation, she adds. Wine’s perception teeters on the brink of being seen as stuffy, snobby, and a complex category to understand. ABO now want to reassert its authority in the wine area and to showcase the diversity of the category, break out of wine just in a wine glass and do things differently.
For example its wine offer is being scaled back from what was a huge range, even though it is still more diverse than other pub groups on the hight street. Its wine list shows the consumers a grape they know – Sauvignon Blanc – and then details all the other things that they could be drinking – be it Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Gris, Sancerre and so on. Arguably the biggest departure from the norm is the Provence Rosé wine that ABO now has on sale on tap. Hecht and Bannier’s Cotes de Provence Rosé served in a flat bottomed, stemless wine glass is pretty big as a statement and aligned with their environmentally conscious, mid twenties consumers.
If any UK operator is to find a way of getting closer to the UK consumer with wine then MAB must have as good a chance as any. It certainly has enough fascias to do so. It is divided now across 14 brands, 1,700 businesses in all geographical parts of the country, other than outer Scottish islands. Nearly as large and complex as the wine category it is trying to deliver to all those brands needs.
That’s very much where Worsey and her team come into play.
Part of their job is to analyse, review and implement the company’s on-going wine strategy. Which for Worsey also means understanding what the customer dynamics are in the category as a whole and then for the individual brands beneath that.
This is where it gets interesting. Wine’s biggest threat is gin. As gin sales go up, wine goes down – as they are often the same drinker, according to MAB’s customer data. Having understood the dynamics it is then about putting a plan together for the overall category, working with the other team members, Henry Boyes, purchasing manager and Amrit Bansal, and then working with individual brand teams for their specific outlets.
The key task for them all is to find new ways to draw out the wine stories their customers are going to be most interested in and then presenting them in ways that consumers will engage with.
One approach is to get closer to the social media influencers – the vloggers and bloggers et al. They tend to be younger and interested in their values and how a particular food, drink or other consumer product fits into these values. So if you are trying new things, listing more biodynamic wines, selling wines by tap or by keg then these are the kind of people that MAB needs to be talking to.
Going where the customer is
Worsey believes the industry as a whole needs to be putting more focus on the bits the consumer is interested in. Like Whispering Angel’s recent promotion with gummy bears or the big surge in demand for the Mirabel Froze popsical.
She believes bars and restaurants need to look at how voice assistants can fit into their outlets. The average young drinker would probably rather ask their phone than a sommelier for advice. Which goes to show just how far the opportunity and challenge is.
- Alistair Morrell – aka The Wine Inspector – is a drinks industry consultant, journalist and commentator. He has over 30 years as a drinks industry professional which he shares with growers, importers, distributors and buyers. You can follow him at @inspectorwine.