This week’s wine news: An airline investigates wine thefts, plus the growth of direct to consumer wine shipping and a plea for more truthful wine advertising
• Missing airline wine: Employees of Cathay Pacific airlines are being investigated for stealing sparkling wine, as well as ice cream and cutlery. The story is vague about what was actually stolen, and this may be more about a labor dispute than theft, but the point is well taken. As we’ve seen on the blog many times, if you’re going to commit a crime with wine, steal the good stuff. What’s the point of swiping the wretched plonk that those of us in economy have to drink?
• Direct to consumers: Tom Mullen, writing on Forbes.com, gives a level-headed account of the history of direct-to-consumer wine sales in the U.S. – how it became possible for most of us to buy wine directly from a winery, bypassing retailers and distributors. The piece is a bit long, but any mainstream article that calls U.S. wine laws “sometimes archaic” and spends time discussing the history of Missouri wine is well worth reading.
• More truth, less artisan: “I see far too many industrial brands calling themselves ‘artisanal,’ ‘family-owned’ or claiming their wines are ‘hand-crafted’ when they are anything but.” No, that’s not the WC ranting, but Dwight Furrow in Edible Arts. His argument is passionate but logical: The “issue isn’t whether there is an exact cut off point for what counts as artisanal. What is obvious is that wineries with annual case production levels over 50,000—enough to supply large retail stores—are unlikely to use artisanal methods. To claim they do is just false advertising.” His point matters more than ever as younger people, who are more sophisticated about advertising than their parents and grandparents, may be turning away from wine because they see those claims as hooey.
This week’s wine news: Direct-to-consumer wine must solve the free delivery problem, plus Dry January in an age of booze moderation
• The problem of free delivery: The latest numbers show that direct-to consumer wine sales – from the winery to the wine drinker, without a retailer – have increased again in an otherwise flat market. Of course, direct to consumer still represents a tiny part of the wine market, in the low single digits. And what’s holding direct sales back? One study suggests it’s charging for delivery: Shoppers “increasingly expect free delivery of items they purchase on-line. … 75 percent of the roughly 3,000 U.S. adults polled want delivery to be free even on orders less than $50, up from 68 percent a year ago.” The story goes into fascinating detail about how expensive free shipping is for the retailer – it loses about $2 on every delivery – and that consumers will pay only $1.40 for delivery. The study doesn’t address wine specifically, but the points are well made.
• Dry January: Booze drinkers who don’t imbibe for a living are increasingly taking the month of January off, a fascinating development in the wake of of the slowdown in worldwide alcohol consumption. The link, from Self magazine, notes that Dry January is an opportunity to “reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.” This is an equally fascinating turn of phrase, since it implies that even moderate drinkers may be drinking too much and will benefit from giving up booze. I’ve noticed it on the blog — visitor numbers are down about one-third this month. Which raises an even more fascinating question: How did we ever get to this point?
• Marketing to non-drinkers: Ad Age reports that Dry January, as well as other trends toward less drinking, “is forcing bars, restaurants and alcohol brands to adapt. More low- and no-alcohol products are in development, and some, like Heineken’s new no-alcohol 0.0 beer, are already hitting store shelves. Drinking establishments, meanwhile, are adding fancier non-alcoholic cocktails, or mocktails, to their menus as they look to keep their drink revenues flowing.” Again, how did we get to this point? And why does no one in the wine business seem to notice?
• Premiumizing Prosecco: These days, it’s not enough to increase sales of a product eight-fold. You have to trade consumers up, even if that means you’ll sell less of the product. That’s the situation with Prosecco, the Italian sparklng wine, reports the Shanken News Daily website. Sales have passed 4 million cases, almost exceeding Champagne. But that’s not good enough, say marketers, since Prosecco rarely costs more than $15 – just a fraction of what Champagne costs. So the push over the next several years will be to convince consumers to buy higher-priced Prosecco, even though the reason for its growth and popularity is that it can cost one-third less than Champagne.
• Take that, Michigan: Remember the good news about three-tier last week? Not so fast, says the state of Michigan. The liquor cops there, who still seem to have a chip on their shoulder from losing the landmark Granholm case in the Supreme Court in 2005, are cracking down on wineries who ship to consumers in the state. ShipCompliant, which helps producers navigate the various local liquor laws, reports that wineries who don’t list their special Michigan license number on the packing label are being cited. If this seems nitpicky, but it’s all part of the fun that is 50 laws for 50 states.
• Bring on the booze: What do you do if you’re a struggling national bookstore chain? Sell beer and wine, of course. Barnes & Noble will add alcohol to stores in Virginia, California, New York, and Minnesota this year in an attempt to boost long-depressed sales. Ironically, Barnes & Noble is suffering at the same time that independent bookstores are enjoying a revival; what does it mean that independents who don’t sell wine are doing better? Hmm. Customer service, perhaps?