April 6, 2007

The Great Supermarket Wine Rip-Off

By Andrew Barrow In Articles
It is a sad truth that the vast majority of wine, in the UK is brought on price alone – usually in supermarkets and more often than not while ‘on promotion’. It is also highly likely that these promotions – half price offers, 25% off, and the like – are nothing more than accountant-speak.
Victoria Moore in the Guardian has penned a superb article summing up the practise whereby ‘wine’ buyers are led by price rather than quality. A must read for all wine drinkers.

The Guardian

“One wine importer, who asked to remain nameless for obvious reasons, is more open still: “I often find myself touting a £7.99 wine that will actually sell mainly at £3.99. The idea is that people will believe it might really be worth something in between those two prices – perhaps £5.99. It’s not. It’s worth £3.99 and not a penny more.” In other words, anyone who pays full price for it is being very badly ripped off.
A couple of big retailers have recently been approaching their wine suppliers to invite them to “share in their success” by “supporting” their future investment and business expansion – which must be a bit like getting a call from Tony Soprano asking if you have anything to donate to Carmela’s charity auction. Business is business, of course, and it would be naive to think otherwise. But all these tactics effectively discriminate against the smaller producer, who cannot always compete with the huge marketing budgets of the larger brands. It’s harder for them to win a listing in the first place, and if they do get there, they may find it’s not worth it, not least because too many shoppers are ensnared by the prominently displayed “promotions”, ignoring the boutique wine that is never discounted and thus hidden away on the bottom shelf. The result is less choice for you, the wine drinker.”

Moore indicates that every-time a wine is mentioned in supermarkets, whether in a club card points offer, a shelf-barker, end of gantry positioning, an in-store magazine food suggestion and so on, that this mention has been paid for by the producer. No wonder smaller estates never get to the shelves. She mentions this is ‘not common practise’ but I have known of such practises from the very beginning of my career in wine.
I doubt the average wine buyer knows. And probably couldn’t care less.

  1. Alex April 7, 2007

    I find that if I buy wine at the supermarket I buy the stuff on offer because of this. I found a long time ago the range of wines in the supermarket very limiting, and with no one with any knowledge to talk to I ended up buying what I knew (Australian) when it was marked down.
    Of course, the real solution is for everyone to shop at their local wine merchant. I know I go on about this incessantly but it’s so useful to build up a rapport. I’m always getting £1 off here or there, and the guys will always tell me when they think a wine’s rubbish. They’re always happy to spend time talking about food and wine matching and I’ve learnt so much about French wines – that would never happen if I’d stuck to going to the supermarket!

  2. Rob April 7, 2007

    Very interesting dude.
    As you well know, I’m quite partial to a bottle of £3.99 el plonko, and as such I was salivating over the prospect of Tesco white burgundy on offer at £3.99… Looks like I’ve fallen for the advertising as well…..
    Oh well, looks like it’s Blossom Hill from ‘Station News’ again tonight!

  3. Andrew April 8, 2007

    Of course the big branded wines have their place – hopefully introducing people to wine and setting them off on an exploration elsewhere, but the point is that these promotions are, ethically at least, cons.

  4. Peter May April 9, 2007

    Andy — you can’t have it both ways. You say It is a sad truth that the vast majority of wine, in the UK is brought on …….half price offers, 25% off, and the like then you quote a marketeer that says the discount price is a true price and that anyone who pays full price for it is being very badly ripped off
    So it seems to me that supermarket consumers are sophisticated enough to understand this and they buy on discount and pass by when its at ‘full’ price.
    And if buying on discount is so sad, why do you go out of your way to push the Threshers 40% discount vouchers? :)

  5. Andrew April 9, 2007

    Not quite my point, Peter.
    Apart from the supermarket promotions revealing/hiding the true cost of the wine (which is deceiving the consumer) the fact that such practises stifle choice and mean that smaller producers do not ‘get a look-in’. That’s what I am driving at not that promotions in themselves are bad.
    The Threshers voucher I think is a legitimate promotion; not sure how it is funded (Stormhoek?) though. But it could (and has) been argued that Threshers prices are rather high to start with…

  6. bobzaguy April 12, 2007

    ethical con…
    It seems to me that your real point is you suddenly found out that bigbranded wines are ‘knowingly’ overpricing a product and you don’t like it.
    What right do they have to find grapes at super advantageous prices for plonk and then make a good profit? I say! And how dare they set a high price, only to drop the price on promotion by over 50%? That’s downright unethical.
    So your postion becomes that ‘supermarket promotions are cons’.
    Then you say they have their place because they are…
    ‘hopefully introducing people to wine and setting them off on an exploration elsewhere…’ – which both you and they know that isn’t really the actual case at all.
    I think you are trying to position yourself in the ‘aren’t they sad’ place. You of course know to go to a reputable wine seller where the wines are legitimately priced, such as Thresher’s. These ‘sad’ grocery shoppers really should get on this wineshop bandwagon and take advantage of the 40% off coupons available. No matter how they are paid for.
    Alex says he is ‘always getting £1 off here or there’ at his shop, but that’s only getting a £1 off a listed price where they are getting £4 off — who’s the winner here?
    Some of these ‘sad’ people don’t have the advanced tasting palate or [I might add] the industry contacts that you have, but they want to drink wine with their dinner just like you do. They also may not want to spend £10-15 on a bottle of wine, no matter the taste or ‘legitimate’ pricing scheme.

  7. merry April 13, 2007

    I have a small boutique cleanskin wine shop in Victoria, Australia. In order to compete with the big guys we sometimes feel the need to offer discounts that eat up our minuscule margins. Please support your local smaller wine retailer as they also stock wines from small boutique wineries that would never see inside a supermarket. Ok, you might pay a little extra, but you are getting quality wine and helping keep the industry exciting.

  8. Mike Mather April 13, 2007

    I’m with Merry on the issue of supporting the boutique wineries. The supermarkets have a place in the market and profit to make. But why should this profit always seem to come at the expense of the wine maker who is at a point in the chain where the margins are already tight.
    The supermarkets will always compete on price to shift stock. But for those of us who care about wine we know where to shop.


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