Saturday, June 7, 2008
In the wine world a cleanskin was the name given to a bottled but as yet unlabelled wine.
Wineries often would do this to give wines bottle age without initially investing in labels and printed cartons with a view to labelling closer to release date. There were other advantages too like being able to include competition medals and accolades on the label if it won something subsequent to bottling, or, if the winery has surplus stock, selling off the unlabelled wine to another wine company to put their own label on it (note: this happens to a high degree in the industry with wineries selling off grapes, cloudy wine, finished wine and bottled wine to their competitors).
In Australia a couple of years ago, small producers had difficulty moving their wine because their brands were relatively unknown so they sold their wines to retailers (both real anfd virtual) who on-sold as 'cleanskins' with the merest of detail on a plain white label. Recently in New Zealand, The Mill began selling 'cleanskins' and Foodtown/Woolworths (both owned by Progressive Enterprises)got in on the act. Foodtown Newmarket have now devoted entire bays to shelve them thus showing that they have created a new category.
Now, are 'cleanskins' good or bad? What the consumer can get is a well made wine at a bargain price. What the consumer can also get is a crap wine at a cheapish price. How can you tell the difference? Buy and try a bottle before investing in too many bottles is one way. I noticed yesterday that there was a Bob Campbell endorsement for the bottle of Gisborne Reserve Chardonnay 2007 I bought. OK, I trust Bob but with essentially unlabelled product how can I trust that supermarket not to just put another unlabelled 2007 Gisborne Chardonnay in that winebay when this one runs out. Will they remove Bob's endorsement sticker?
What the consumer of course doesn't know is how much this 'cleanskin' should cost. I suspect that the supermarkets love the idea because they can just pick a number, any number to sell it at (having bought it for next to nothing from a cash-strapped wine producer)thus making greater margins than normal. The distressing thing about this is that they still charge wine companies huge amounts of money for shelf space for the branded products whilst undermining the sales of these with the unbranded products.
Where will it end? Who knows. Will consumers buy unbranded food items? They certainly are attracted to the no-frills products now. The problem is in the long term who can you trust if there is no brand owner to keep honest in quality/price ratios.