Higher wine prices, retailer margins, and premiumization

wine pricesWine price data may show that retailers are absorbing some of the higher prices that come with premiumization

The theory behind premiumization is that wine has become more expensive – not necessarily because wine prices have increased, but because we’re buying more expensive wine. Yes, it’s a fine distinction, but it’s one that the experts insist on.

And there may be some evidence to back that up.

What I’ve found, with expert guidance from Tarek Abdallah, PhD, an assistant professor of operations management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Ill., is that retailers haven’t been raising prices as much as wholesalers have. In fact, says Abdallah, the numbers show that retailers have been getting squeezed since the end of the recession.

Since 2009, wholesalers have raised the prices they charge retailers by an average of 2.25 percent a year. But retailers have only increased the prices they charge consumers by three-quarters of that amount, about 1.84 percent annually. In other words, retailers are absorbing some of the price increases.

Abdallah points to two sets of data compiled by the federal government to demonstrate this: First, the consumer price index for alcoholic beverages, a derivative of the better known overall consumer price index, the standard measure of U.S. inflation. Second, the wholesaler producer price index for alcoholic beverages, which measures what the second tier charges for its products.

What’s the catch?

The caveat here: Neither index breaks out wine; rather, each tracks combined sales of beer, spirits, and wine. So we can’t be certain that wine prices by themselves are acting this way. But, says Abdallah, the data is broad enough and consistent enough so that we can be reasonably certain.

Which brings us back to the idea that wine price increases aren’t the most important part of premiumization. How can they be if retailers are working to minimize those increases?

This plays into the sense that producers, rather than raising prices for existing products, are bringing new, more expensive products to market. They want us to buy their new $15 wine instead of the old $10 wine, marketing the new wine as better than the old wine because it costs more – even if it isn’t necessarily better.

And retailers seem to be hedging their bets and not charging the full $15 for the new wine — and maybe for just that reason.

More about premiumization:
Premiumization be damned: $139.36 for 14 ½ bottles of cheap wine
Wine prices, razor blades, and premiumization
“Reasonably priced at $40:” Wine premiumization is out of control

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