Sunday, January 24, 2016

BACK AND GLAD OF IT

In the past I've complained about the dumbing down of wine offerings by retailers in New Zealand.

This has been as a consequence of the rise of supermarket dominance of wine retailing and the decline of the wine and spirit merchant.



Sure this has been a process that has taken 30 years but it is a shame.
Big supermarkets with their volume buying power screw down suppliers, dumb down product offerings by forcing downward product engineering because of price pressure and set  difficult hurdle rates that encourage the promotion of budget and value wines.


Wine and spirit merchants have disappeared as supermarkets deal with wineries, importers and distributors direct.


Small wine shops, not being able to compete with supermarkets on price, parking and convenience resort to stocking their stores with RTD's and cheap spirits (that supermarkets by law cannot sell) and wines become an afterthought.



Well, I haven't really changed my mind on this but having lived overseas for the last 2 and a half years I can look at the local scene and favourably compare with what is going on in for example the UK.

United Kingdom has for centuries been the wine hub of the world, being exposed to all forms of wines from nearly all countries of the world.


The traditional wine and spirit merchant model was created there along with specialist wine shops, wine bars and many things 'fine-wine'.



The growth of multiple grocers (supermarkets) over time like in New Zealand has led to the demise of many of the traditional wine and spirit merchants, the high street chain retailers and hundreds of specialist wine shops. There has of course been a resurgence of small, family run wine shops but these represent a tiny percentage of the total. The multiple grocers - Sainsbury's, Waitrose, ASDA, TESCO, Marks and Spencer etc spend millions of pounds telling consumers that they have the perfect selection for them. Sadly this is like American television catering to the masses and dumbing things down to the lowest common denominator. Most of shelf space is now taken up by cheap offerings from Spain, South Africa, Argentina, South of France, Chile, Australia and, sadly, inferior bulk produced Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. So much for the wine hub of the world.



Multiple 'High Street' chains like Majestic and Oddbins are fighting a rear guard action but are seeming to struggle. They too are limiting their quality selections in favour of cheaper, value and budget brands and products from the aforementioned regions.

In the UK there are of course still some outstanding importer/distributors who still have the top wines of the world (Corney and Barrow, Harrod's, Berry Bros and Rudd, Adnams etc but unless you are a millionaire or are prepared to take out a second mortgage the offerings are generally beyond the average wine drinker.



As an average wine drinker I was very disappointed at the offerings in the supermarkets and high street stores that I visited. The Australian, New Zealand and Californian sections were particularly poorly represented. Being familiar with the stunning quality and exceptional value that can be found from these regions it is inexcusable that the retailers don't bother stocking them, preferring to dumb down their selections to match the undiscerning buying preferences of the majority of their customers. Shame on them.

This responsibility is left to the small independent wine shop owner whose enthusiasm drives him/her to find great examples but whose buying power restricts them on range and affordability.

When it comes to on-premise the situation is even more dire.
The wine bar is a sad reflection of what it once was or could be. The selections overall tend to be ordinary and the offerings by-the-glass pathetic. What are these operators thinking when they expect people to come in and buy a bottle when they may only want a glass or two. The ideal of a wine bar is in being able to try two or three different wines at a sitting, not to plough through a bottle.

Pubs are worse with plenty of beer choices with real ales and boutique breweries but they can't be stuffed when it comes to wine, generally having an indifferent white and an indistinct red as the choices and wonder why I and other say no thanks. I guess if we default to beer they are happy as there is more margin in that for them.



The most shameful are the big tourist hotels whether they be Hiltons or Travelodges. The food and beverage managers have been instructed to keep margins down and prices high so the wine by the bottle or glass will be some dire Riverlands crap from Australia or an undrinkable concoction from Argentina - all at astronomically high prices.

So.
Where is this going?
Why back to Godzone of course.
At least in good old NZ the wine offerings in supermarkets while not being very broad in terms of countries of origin, will be very comprehensive in terms of New Zealand, Australian (and emerging California) varietals and the prices, compared to the UK are brilliant.

The wine bars and pubs and restaurants and cafes in NZ generally have a good selection of wines by the bottle and by the glass (could still improve but are better than Canada, UK and Europe).


1 comment:

A virtualbozo said...

I see what you are saying. The consumer will balance the pro's and con's in the end though.
A clever chap has set up up a shop between me and the supermarket and equal distance to a Liquor Store. I choose his shop because he sells food and wine and beer equal or less than the merchant.