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Angela Mount, November comment

Published:  23 November, 2009

The demise of First Quench Retailing will be commanding column miles, rather than column inches this week and for the foreseeable future, therefore I will resist the temptation to jump onto this bandwagon, although it does the robustness of our industry no favours to see another direct point of contact with the wine buying public disappearing from the high street.

In the current, seething cauldron of issues facing the wine industry, leaving aside for a moment the subjects of duty, VAT and social responsibility, let alone currency rates, what are the key words on every marketer's, every educator's, every sales exec's, and every buyer's lips... engage,innovate, educate, offer value for money, and trade up when you can... but at the point of purchase, this message is still and inexorably, lacking.

July to December is the time of year when every publication, every wine competition assesses the industry, and hands out the gongs... IWC announced its winners in September, IWSC and OLN will reveal their results over the next three months.... leaving aside specific wine awards, a key focus are the awards for retailers... from beer specialist of the year, to online retailer, through to high street chain and supermarket of the year.

Brand owners invest heavily in marketing strategies to deliver their message to the consumer, both above the line, and via in store marketing programmes. Yet, ultimately , their message is only as strong, as their route to consumer happens to be... as strong as the commitment of those retailers, with whom they trade.

As an ex retailer and now independent judge, I have spent hours over the last couple of months, poring over submissions for shortlisted entries to various retail award categories. On paper, 90% of them look very impressive, exciting, and encourage me to think that retailers are focussed on engagement, education and communication... and I know , without a doubt, that the buyers want this. However, there is a huge gap between vision or strategy, and implementation, and dare I say it, rather too much lip service to the initiatives discussed.

Every retail chain has one or several flagship stores. The exemplary, and applause-worthy initiatives that I have read about in the documents over which I have deliberated recently, offer a reassuring vision for the future education and engagement of our willing, eager, wine consumers...

However, the flagship store is not representative, and it is only when visiting stores that you see how the message is lost, both in smaller stores, and in stores where staff are less focussed.
And yet, this is where the majority of wine is sold; where shoppers spend less than two minutesin the wine aisle and have to make their choices.. where, in the absence of clear, concise information, they revert to the promotional aisle.

It was a question that I never succeeded in answering completely at Somerfield - it would appear that the major supermarkets still have not so done either - flagship stores are show ponies, easy wins... the retailer who can translate their intrinsic consumer communication message in a small store format, will get my vote.. and I would suggest the consumer vote.