Category:Wine trends

New study says we’ll be eating – and drinking – more at home, even after the pandemic ends

restaurant wine
USA Today reports that 2.3 million restaurant jobs have been lost during the pandemic.

As many as one in four say they anticipate forgoing restaurants – and restaurant wine – in the future

A Florida consultancy predicts that restaurant spending could fall by as much as one-half by the time the pandemic ends. Even more surprising, says its study: Consumers seem content to cook and eat at home. If true, this has tremendous implications for the wine business.

That’s because about 40 percent wine sold in the U.S., measured by dollar sales, is sold in restaurants. So if that market goes away, there’s going to be even more wine glutting the market – and there’s already a glut.

And if that happens, we could be looking at lower prices but also more winery failures – and especially on the high end, since that’s where much restaurant wine comes from. This might also lead to more winery consolidation, which means less consumer choice. The biggest wineries have the deepest pockets, and will be better able to survive a massive glut.

The results come from Florida-based Acosta, in a study called “COVID-19: Reinventing How America Eats.” It described what seem to be massive shifts in consumer eating habits: 44 percent report eating breakfast at home daily, compared with 33 percent pre-COVID. Similarly, 31 percent are eating lunch at home every day versus 18 percent pre-COVID, and one-third are eating dinner at home daily versus 21 percent pre-COVID. All of those people eating at home, says Acosta, translates into 31 to 50 percent less spending at midscale, casual and fine dining restaurants.

Don’t panic yet

But let’s look at the caveats:

• Acosta didn’t respond to a couple of requests for an interview. The study is based on “online surveys of Acosta’s proprietary shopper community” in early July, as well as industry data and “proprietary information sources.” Proprietary means the company doesn’t discuss how the survey works, which means it’s OK to be skeptical about the results. We know how Nielsen measures sales; we don’t know how Acosta divines its results.

• On the other hand, Acogta’s pessimism about the future of the restaurant business dovetails with most of the gloom and doom prognosticated elsewhere. USA Today reported in early October that 2.3 million restaurant jobs have been lost during the pandemic, while 12 percent of sit-down restaurant chain units that were open before COVID-19 had closed.

• The 40 percent restaurant wine sales number is misleading, since it’s measured in dollar terms. Given that restaurant wines tend to be more expensive, and that restaurant markups inflate that total, the amount of wine sold in restaurants in actual bottles is probably much less than 40 percent of the U.S. total. Hence, the loss of the restaurant market wouldn’t be quite as devastating, and it would also be mitigated by people buing less expensive wine at the supermarket.

• Some of the results in the survey require a second look. For example, “35 percent of consumers said they’ve discovered a new passion for cooking amid the pandemic.” Which is all well and good, but does it actually mean anything? And one-fifth to one-quarter of the respondents say they anticipate eating out less in the future, which is understandable in July but may not mean much next spring.

So, yes, more not good news for the restaurant and wine businesses. But maybe, given all the bad news we’ve had, not quite as bad as it seems.

Buying wine online: Six months of virtual shopping during the pandemic

buying wine online
“Hmmm.. what does the WC say about buying newer vintages?

Seven things I’ve learned while buying wine online during the pandemic

Buying wine online during the pandemic has not necessarily been difficult. Aggravating in many ways, certainly, and especially for anyone who likes to visit wine shops. Virtual shopping is just not the same as holding a bottle in your hand and waving at the employee in the next aisle.

Having said that, there’s something to be said for buying wine at the keyboard instead of masking up and braving a retailer in a state where not everyone believes in science. So, seven things I’ve learned to make buying wine on-line easier during the pandemic:

• Retailer websites are what they are, and that isn’t Amazon – and there’s nothing you can do about it. When the pandemic started, several analysts told me that most retailer e-services weren’t prepared to handle the traffic they would soon get. So when national e-tailer Wine.com has to apologize because it’s having trouble filling orders, imagine how much trouble smaller retailers are having. Consider one Dallas retail site advertising 15 wines for $15 or less – three of which cost more than $15.

• Pricing is all over the place. The La Vieille Ferme French rose, long a Wine Curmudgeon staple, costs $8.99 on Wine.com and at Whole Foods; $6.99 at Total Wine; $14.99 for 1.5 liters, the equivalent of two bottles, at Kroger via Instacart; $8.95 at Central Market, the Texas version of Whole Foods; and $7.34 at Spec’s, Texas biggest retailers (but it isn’t for sale on Spec’s via Instacart).

• Bookmark the LCBO website – the government owned retailer for Canada’s Ontario province. It includes alcohol levels, something many retail websites don’t list. Because they don’t, I’ve bought too many whites and roses at 14 ½ percent, which is not what I want in a white or rose.

• Scores and winespeak dominate, which does most of us – since we aren’t looking for trophy wines – no good. How about a wine that “expresses citrus and floral notes reminiscent of hawthorn and vine flower. “ Oh yeah, hawthorn and vine flower. On the other hand, I’ve had decent luck with the star ratings on Wine.com; less than 4, and I know to stay away.

Where’s the wine?

• Availability is just as goofy as pricing, and not just for the wine made with weird grapes that I like. It’s even true for mass market products like the La Vieille. I bought it on Wine.com on Sept. 10, but when I checked the price for this post, about two weeks later, it was sold out. This vanishing act happens on other other retailer sites, large and small. Much of it stems from increased demand, as more of us buy wine online, as well as pandemic-related supply chain problems. Plus, as one retailer told me, they’re keeping less wine in inventory to cut costs. My advice? If you see something you like, buy more than one. No guarantee it will be there next time.

• Given this limit in selection, I’ve been forced to try different wines and different styles. Which has been terrific – who wants to get in a wine drinking rut? That includes a variety of South African wines, several from the New World, and even Italian sparkling.

• If the site doesn’t list a vintage, good luck – and many don’t. I’ve had wines as old as 2013 dumped on me, with not unexpected results – oxidized, spoiled, or vinegary. In addition, if the e-tailer is out of one vintage, it will substitute another (check the fine print on the site, which says whether they do this). That’s a problem when I’m buying a 2019 to review and get a 2016 instead. Hence, I’ve started leaving notes, specifying which vintages I’ll take, Otherwise, I tell them to skip that wine.

Finally, make sure to uncheck all the “We’re going to send you e-mails, e-mails, and more e-mails” boxes in the permissions in your account. Otherwise, you’ll spend more time deleting email than buying wine. And, no, Instacart, I don’t want to rate my delivery experience with Eric, no matter how many times you ask me.

Photo: My Friend’s Coffee by John Beans is licensed under CC BY 2.0

More about buying wine online:
Is the coronavirus pandemic the beginning of changes to the three-tier system?
The buying wine on-line checklist
Winecast 45: DCanter’s Michael Warner and wine retail trends during the duration

Winecast 51: Ray Isle, Food & Wine magazine and wine during the pandemic

ray isle
Ray Isle: “Producers are doing anything they can to keep prices from going up.”

“It’s a complicated time for sure, and especially complicated for small producers. … It’s not a time I’d want to be starting a winery.”

Ray Isle, the executive wine editor of Food & Wine, has a unique perspective on wine during the pandemic. He not only writes about wine for one of the country’s leading food magazines, but he brings a practical sense to the job that many of his colleagues don’t bother with. Or, as he said during our chat: “I got into wine as a poor graduate student, and my budget for wine was about $14.99 a month, and I’ve never abandoned that. You have to write about the affordable stuff. That’s what people like to drink.”

We talked about that, and Ray offered a variety of value wine suggestions, including the Sokol Blosser Evolution No.9 white blend (in a 1.5 liter box, no less, which I also liked); a South African red and white; and an $11 Chianti. We also touched on:

• Wine prices and availability during the pandemic — both seem to be better for domestic wines than for imports because of the tariff.

• The future of the tariff; he, too, is cautiously optimistic about getting rid of the 25 percent levy regardless of what happens in November.

• The state of restaurant wine, and why we should be worried about the future of the U.S. restaurant business because trouble there means trouble for or wine.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 18 minutes long and takes up about 12 megabytes. Quality is very good to excellent.

Once more, how not to report a wine and health story

wine and health
No, NPR, most Americans haven’t been passed out on the the sofa during the pandemic, despite what your story says.

This time, it’s NPR that doesn’t do the reporting and accepts the neo-Prohibitionist arguments that drinking will kill us sooner rather than later

Dear NPR:

Yes, I understand about budget cuts and the changing landscape for traditional media. But that’s still not an excuse for the sloppy reporting in this story, which ran on Friday. It recounted the arguments – most not necessarily true – that the neo-Prohibitionists use in their attempt to once again outlaw alcohol in the U.S.

Hence, I will reiterate my offer to serve as a sounding board the next time something like this comes up. Because, frankly, you missed a lot:

• What’s the bias of the people you’re interviewing? In this case, the story quoted several federal health officials warning us that we’ll kill ourselves if we keep drinking the way we have been during the pandemic. This is where you should have noted these are the same people who said drinking a bottle of wine is the same as smoking 10 cigarettes and that wine with dinner constitutes binge drinking.

• You also took at face value the claim that we’re drinking staggering sums of booze during the pandemic. Which isn’t true. Yes, the story in the link is a bit jargony, but the point is that overall wine sales are down because of restaurant closures. So, in fact, we’re drinking less wine during the pandemic (also borne out here).

• The story said more people die from alcohol-related diseases each year than from drug overdoses, which is damned scary – save for one thing. Drinking is legal and booze is easy to get. Drugs, if you need enough to overdose, usually aren’t legal or easy to get. It’s a lot more convenient to kill yourself with alcohol, since you don’t have to meet a guy in a parking lot to buy heroin or coke, or to forge an Oxycontin prescription and hope the pharmacist doesn’t notice.

• The story ignores the astonishing statistic that one-third of us don’t drink, which is among the highest abstention rates in the industrialized world. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. So, next time, you need to ask: How can we be drinking ourselves to death if so many of us don’t drink?

• The story overlooks the tremendous progress that has been made with legitimate drinking problems, like underage and binge drinking, alcoholism, and drunk driving. For example, alcohol-related crashes have declined by almost one-half since 1985. I’ll bet you didn’t know that, either.

Finally, a few words about one of my favorite neo-Prohibitionist flummoxes, something called “alcohol use disorder,” and which figures prominently in the story. Health officials claim that 15 million of us suffer from this, but the definition is so broad that it includes me, the Big Guy, and almost anyone who takes wine seriously. After all, don’t we spend a “great deal of time… in activities necessary to obtain, to use, or to recover from the effects of drinking”?

None of this is written to denigrate the serious problems caused by alcohol abuse. It’s something that I’ve been writing about for decades. Rather, it’s to give you the background you need the next time you have to write a story about how we’re drinking ourselves to death.

Yours in quality journalism,

The Wine Curmudgeon

 

TV wine ads: Australia’s Brokenwood Cellars, and how wine commercials haven’t changed in 50 years

Is there really any difference between this 2016 TV wine ad and any made almost 50 years ago? Which is sad, isn’t it?

Remember all those corny 1970s TV wine ads we’ve dissected on the blog? Who knew someone would make the same kind of ad almost 50 years later?

But that’s the case with this effort from Australia’s Brokenwood Cellars, which does everything but call on the shade of Orson Welles to chant, “We will sell no one wine before its time.” Does the narration really say (around 0:30) that Brokenwood makes wine “to be drunk and enjoyed, savored and admired?” What else are we supposed to do with it? Spit it out?

Brokenwood wines aren’t readily available in the U.S., but appear to be critically respected. Which makes the ad that much more difficult to figure out — if you’re already well thought of, why bother with this? It’s the kind of faux image building that less respected brands do to puff up their reputation. If you make quality wine, why gild the lily with a shot of someone’s gnarled hands?

More about TV wine ads:
TV wine ads: Does Stella Rosa’s sweet fizzy red commercial do what Big Wine can’t?
TV wine ads: San Giuseppe Wines, because you can never have too much bare skin in a wine ad
TV wine ads: King Solomon wine, because “Tonight … the king is in town”

Video courtesy of Rollingball Productions via YouTube

The WC wine business index: How much has the pandemic hurt the wine business?

wine businessThe statistics are all over the place; can we tell what’s going on in the wine business from the WC wine business index?

It’s a running joke among those of us who pay attention to the wine business that almost all the sales figures you read here and elsewhere are unreliable; the best numbers are educated guesses that have been fine tuned based on the data that is available.

There are many reasons for this, including the fact that lots and lots of wine is sold by lots and lots of independent retailers who aren’t tracked by companies like Nielsen. So why does this matter now? Because, according to one set of numbers, the wine business is in a pandemic-fueled crisis and things are going to get much worse before they get better. Or, if you believe these numbers, the past six months (as well as the past couple of years) are just a bump in the road and worrying about it is for small-minded people.

The reason for the discrepancies? Most agree that wine sales have declined since U.S. restaurants closed in March and April. What they can’t agree on is whether retail sales have made up most of the difference, so that the decline is insignifcant. Further complicating matters, based on yet more statistics, is that some insist sales are up for the year thanks to lots of foofry about the Internet, e-commerce, and wine delivery.

The WC wine business index

But no one has actually been able to figure out where we are seven months into the pandemic. Which is why the blog is unveiling the WC wine business index, where numbers aren’t the be all and end all. Instead, I’ve talked to retailers, producers, and marketers from around the country to see if I can sketch where the wine business is and what it means for consumers. Hence:

• There’s some desperate marketing going on in an attempt to boost sales. One major Texas wine event, forced to cancel, is trying to sell wine via email solicitations. Shudder. And one trade group wants you to buy its wine for the “iconic, uniquely-designed rose bottles that can be used for crafts and ingenious displays. …” Double shudder.

Producer after producer, mostly smaller but also some larger, has told me that many of the 9,000 or so wineries that make up 90 percent of the U.S. total may be in danger of closing. The pandemic has shuttered their tasting rooms, and since most of them don’t sell much, if any, at retail, they depend on tasting room sales to stay in business.

• How about an Oregon pinot noir with a suggested retail price of $12.50? That means the street price is $10.99 or $11.99, almost unheard for Oregon pinot. In fact, most Oregon pinots that used to cost that little long ago went to $15 and $18. This points to way too much wine being made in Oregon, as well as slowing sales; the wine in question may be close to being sold at cost.

• The pandemic apparently clobbered the keg wine business, which has been a bright spot over the past couple of years. Wineries were putting their wine in kegs, just like beer, to sell to restaurants. But no restaurants means no need for keg wine. So keg producers are spending time and money to repackage their wines, often in boxes.

• Big Wine, save for a few glitches, seems to be doing better than most. One reason: It sells less wine, proportionally, to restaurants and more to supermarkets, which fits the pandemic consumer profile. In addition, consumers seem to be focusing on brands they know, and that fits the Big Wine product line.

And what about consumers?

Your guess is as good as mine. Most retailers tell me we’re trading down, and that Big Wine supermarket sales are OK speaks to that. And I’ve seen signs that some high-end wines, the $100 and up kind, are clawing for new business in a way they’ve never clawed before. That implies there is some trading down, though trading down from $150 to $75 isn’t exactly the traditional definition.

In this, there is still a lot of money in the hands of aging Baby Boomers, who will continue to buy their overpriced 92-point wine despite what else is going on. And the wine business will be happy to sell it to them to paper over any other problems.

So what’s the overall impression from the WC wine business index? That we’re in a holding pattern, though likely headed down sooner rather than later. Specific parts of the wine business are already suffering, and some are suffering badly, be it smaller producers or independent retailers.

But consolidation among producers and distributors has insulated the biggest companies from the worst of the pandemic. So expect to see two levels of pain over the next year or so: Something akin to an ankle sprain among the biggest companies, compared to a broken leg (or worse) among the smaller. And the consumer will get caught in the middle, which is exactly where the wine business likes us.

Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Inquirer, using a Creative Commons license

Winecast 50: Churro, the blog’s associate editor, and why Millennials and wine don’t get along

Millennials and wine
“I know I need the computer bag, but why are you making me wear the damn hat?”

“We can pay off our student loans or we can buy wine. What do you think we’re going to do?”

One reason I hired Churro as the blog’s new associate editor was his perspective – he isn’t a Baby Boomer, and brings a younger, more fresh approach to the blog. Which is the topic of this podcast: Why Millennials aren’t as interested in wine as their parents and grandparents. Our conversation included:

• Wine prices, and that wine is too expensive for many younger consumers.

• How to make wine easier by using wine apps like Vivino.

• Wine’s competition from craft beer and cocktails. As Churro noted, “they’re doing some amazing things with craft beer these days.” And, by omission, not so amazing things with wine.

• That it’s OK to sniff and swirl and spit, as long as you don’t make a production out of it.

Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 12 minutes long and takes up about 4 megabytes. Quality is very good to excellent.

And for the doubters in the audience: I’ve interviewed a dog before — Wishbone, the 1990s PBS TV star. In addition, dog whisperer Amanda Smith lent her much appreciated support.