British boozing figures at odds with ‘stealthy’ drinking claims
Wednesday 2 September
Following the media’s outcry on rising alcohol levels and drinking by ‘stealth’ last week, the British Beer and Pub Association has published new figures showing alcohol consumption is actually falling.
The BBPA Statistical Handbook’s timing is impeccable with figures that are at odds with the claims of ever rising growth in UK. The figures show that alcohol consumption fell in 2008, and has fallen 6.1% since 2004.
The statistics are related to beer rather than wine but it’s good to see concrete facts challenging the Mintel report and its ‘stealthy’ claims.
British consumption of booze per head remains in the mid range compared with our European neighbours. Britons drink less than the French, Germans, and Spanish, with the Czechs drinking the most per head, at 12.4 litres of alcohol, compared to the UK’s 8.1 litres.
BBPA acting chief executive, David Long, said, “Our new Statistical Handbook will confound many of the myths surrounding trends in the UK drinks industry. Year on year, we are not drinking more. Nor is British beer getting stronger, with two thirds of our beer at or below 4.2%strength, compared to the continental standard of 5%.”
Unfortunately, it’s not as rock and roll as Mintel’s report, so don’t expect it to make the tabloid headlines. The public are unlikely to hear about this.
Other interesting facts from the Handbook
- Total expenditure on alcohol in the on-trade was at its lowest level since 1972 (oh dear)
- 27% of on-trade wine sales were in the London area compared to only 16% of beer sales
Majestic reduces its minimum purchase
Tuesday 1 September
Sell-by-the-dozen retailer Majestic has announced it is reducing its minimum purchase in-store from 12 to 6 bottles.
After initial trials last year in my native north-east - Darlington and Newcastle - it added a few more stores to the trial but the company has been cagey about whether it would be rolled out nationally. And finally, it has happened.
Will it work? Well, isn’t that the whole idea of a trial? With customers trading down, smaller purchases kinder on the wallet won’t do any harm and it’s certainly easier for people to carry six bottles home, allowing people without cars to get a piece of Majestic action. In a press release, Steve Lewis, chief executive of Majestic, said, “Majestic has always been a great place to stock up, but our new minimum purchase now means we are also a great place if you’re just popping in.”
However its 12-bottle policy will remain when purchasing online.
It has also launched a new in-store initiative – Wine Uncorked. This is a free, two-hour introduction to wine, delivered by its store managers. Wine schools watch out. The tasting session focuses on how to taste wine, winemaking and food and wine matching ideas. The sessions should run in the majority of its 150 stores by the end of October.
Check out the Majestic blog for the info
Mintel drinks report leads to press outcry
Friday 28 August
Every UK newspaper was filled with scaremongering headlines yesterday about the British drinking too much ‘by stealth’. A new report published by Mintel has brought the topic of alcohol levels to the public eye but as a member of the drinks industry it’s like claiming the world is round is a new revelation- and newsworthy.
The Telegraph reported along the same lines as every other broadsheet and tabloid: ‘Middle-class Britons are drinking too much “by stealth” because they consume alcohol more frequently than other groups and the wine they enjoy is getting stronger’.
The papers were taking their information from Jonny Forsyth, senior drinks analyst at Mintel who, said in a press release, ‘In the 1970s a bottle of wine may have been around 11% in ABV and now the same bottle is more likely to be around 13%.’ What a revelation. I think I’ll take up writing reports and charging.
Forsyth added, ‘It may be that the majority of consumers are not aware of ABV and don’t even notice. So despite a greater societal concern with being healthy leading to a decline in drinking penetration, by stealth we are drinking more pure alcohol than ever.’
Now what’s all this about stealth? I appreciate they probably mean unknowingly but the dictionary describes stealth as cunning or underhand procedure and if you do a search in the thesaurus you’ll find its synonyms are slyness, sneakiness or furtiveness. But who’s being sneaky here? The drinks industry? If it is the industry he’s pointing the finger at for producing drinks higher in alcohol and not being open about it, then I have to take issue with him.
Admittedly alcohol levels in wine have risen, as he describes, thanks in part to better techniques in the vineyard, more efficient yeasts in the winery, possibly global warming and a fashion to leave grapes on the vine for longer to get phenolic ripeness (meaning seed and skin ripeness as well as sugar ripeness). But it’s not like we’ve hidden it – read the label!
Lower alcohol wines are still low on the list of priorities for consumers if you look at Wine Intelligence research. The wine industry is innovating to create lower alcohol wines with earlier picking and alcohol removal technologies amongst other things but demand is still low – perhaps from a lack of awareness of how many units we’re drinking. The industry is getting together to consider the potential of the low alcohol category in October. The public will be a long way behind.
What do consumers really want to drink?
Tuesday 25 August
Are we guilty of not listening to the consumer? Probably, yes. Working in the wine trade every day does tend to take over your life – it’s not just a job – you drink, sleep, breathe the stuff. Inevitably that tends to mean we are removed from the wine-buying public. No matter how many Wine Intelligence studies or in-house market research we read, can we really remember how we felt about buying wine or what we were drinking before we got into the trade? Tricky, isn’t it?
In my last blog, I praised London restaurant L’Anima for putting its wine list in the hands of the twittering public. Great publicity and a great way to involve your customers.
Days later, I’m interviewing Naked Wines boss Rowan Gormley who has come up with the genius (albeit brave) idea of getting his customers to choose the wine. He’s already got his customers, affectionately known as ‘angels’ to do this back in June and aims to do it again in the autumn.
The price of getting Naked
As I explained in my article on decanter.com, Naked will stump up US$100,000 on wine at this year’s Wines of Argentina trade tasting and do the same at Wines of South Africa’s tasting in October.
He’s asking fifty of his ‘most active’ customers to attend the London event. They’ll taste 100 wines and select 10 for the list.
Customer empowerment goes further…the angels then state a price they would be prepared to pay for the selected wines against the prices set by the wineries. The wineries are online – or at the tasting – and see the price comparisons and are able to adjust their prices if they wish. If the customers don’t believe the wine is worth as much as the producer does, the producer can then reduce its price to secure a larger order – or not.
Gormley believes enfranchising the customer is all-important. ‘We have tasted with consumers and if you say Robert Parker has given it this mark or this critic said this it doesn’t mean much but the most powerful view is fellow consumers.’
Is there anybody out there?
Only 50 wines have been submitted by the Argentineans thus far and Gormley expressed surprise and disappointment the response had been lacklustre when there’s such a decent prize at stake. Come on senors and senoritas, get your Argentinean fingers out.
Twitter, facebook and an Italian restaurant
Friday 21 August
The clever people at L’Anima restaurant have come up with the great stunt of getting the world and his wife to vote for new wines on its list.
They’ve enlisted the help of Robert McIntosh, who specialises in social media as well as working for Rioja producer Dinastia Vivanco, to coordinate the event. Six experts including L’Anima’s sommelier and Anthony Rose (my invite must be lost in the post!) will taste a range of wines on Monday. The judges must then argue their case for the wines on youtube for the public to decide. The three wines with the most twitter/facebook votes will then win a place on the restaurant’s list.
This is a great idea. It gets consumers involved in selecting the wines they are going to drink plus gives a sneak peek into the sniffy world of sommeliers.
Oh, and it makes great publicity. I can safely say we’ll see plenty of copycat versions in the coming months.
Here’s the L’Anima link for you to get voting on Tuesday and Wednesday.