Tag Archives: supermarket wine

Supermarket wine sales during the pandemic

supermarket wine
I need more Barefoot, Josh Cellars, Bota Box, and Stella Rosa!

We’re probably buying more supermarket wine during the pandemic, though we have less to choose from – and we’re likely drinking it with a home-cooked dinner

Supermarket wine seems to be thriving during the pandemic, as we make fewer trips and buy more items – including wine – at one store instead of splitting the trip into two or three stops.

Why seems? Because, as with so many things wine, there are few reliable statistics. As one of the country’s leading supermarket analysts told me, “I’ve heard that’s true, and a lot of people are talking about it, but I haven’t actually seen any numbers about it.”

So what do we know?

• Sales appear to increasing. Kroger reported in December that sauvignon blanc was its fourth most popular purchase in 2020, ahead of bags of chocolate candies and burger patties. In addition, noted the annual Wine Business Monthly study, four supermarket brands — Josh Cellars, Barefoot, Stella Rosa, and Bota — grew significantly in 2020. Stella Rosa, a sweet red, was up almost 108 percent.

• We could buying more private label supermarket wine, according to  the Wine Business Monthly study. This ties into a 2020 food industry report that “three in 10 shoppers said they were buying more store brands than before the pandemic,” and while the report doesn’t mention wine, it does talk about increased demand for all private label products.

• Because price still matters, despite premiumization. The New York Times reported in September that “shoppers are being more economical,” and if it’s true for beans and laundry detergent, it may well be true for wine. That’s my sense, anyway, and especially as I struggle to find cheap wine regularly stocked on store shelves. My Aldi, for example, is regularly sold out of my favorite cheap wines.

• We’re cooking more at home, and it looks like this will continue after the pandemic winds down. And that almost certainly means more supermarket wine sales, as shoppers pick up wine to go with dinner. I was skeptical when I saw this report about home cooking this fall, but more analysts say it looks to be the case. Kroger’s chairman told the Times: “People are moving on to more complex cooking, and we don’t see that going away.”

• Fewer wines to choose from when we do buy in a supermarket, by almost five percent, according to Nielsen. This is part of a larger trend, as retailers cut back on inventory in all departments. Interestingly, that five percent was one of the smallest decreases among the 13 categories in the survey. Is this is another hint at wine’s importance to supermarkets during the pandemic?

• More on-line wine sales. Combine better supermarket technology with relaxed state laws, and supermarket on-line sales probably increased, too. I can buy via Instacart or directly from the retailer’s at half a dozen Dallas grocers. In 2019, there were maybe a couple.

Ask the WC 26: Wine gifts, supermarket wine, blog ads

Wine giftsThis edition of Ask the WC: How do I buy a wine gift when I know nothing about wine? Plus, what exactly is supermarket wine and why do the blog ads look so bad?

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
I know nothing about wine, but I need to buy a colleague some wine for his retirement party. A friend who reads you said you could help. All I know is that he likes red wine — and we can spend between $50 and $70 a bottle.
Don’t know much about wine

Dear Don’t:
Thank your friend for sending you to the blog. I’d find a good local shop and asking them to recommend one of two wines: Either a Kermit Lynch-imported French red, if he likes French wine, or a Montelena or Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon if he prefers California. Kermit Lynch is not only one of the  world’s great importers, but their wines are as much about value as quality. And the two California producers combine New World style with Old World sensibility.

Hey, WC:
You’re always writing about “supermarket wine,” but you never really say what it is. So what is it?
Supermarket shopper

Dear Supermarket:
Supermarket wines are usually made by the biggest producers and are mostly sold in supermarkets and large retailers. You probably won’t seem them in neighborhood and independent shops. So labels like Barefoot, Josh Cellars, and Woodbridge are supermarket wines.

Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
Why do the ads on your site and the email look so big? Can’t you make it look less tacky?
Good taste

Dear Good:
I’m limited in what I can do, since it’s just me and I’m at the mercy of the services I use for the ads and the email. But not to worry — big changes are coming soon to the blog, and the ads are going away.

Photo: “Liberty Wine Shop” by Ruth and Dave is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Winebits 677: The year-end supermarket wine edition

supermarket wineThis week’s wine news: Supermarket wines could account for almost half of the wine sold in the U.S. Meanwhile, Kroger says sauvignon blanc was a 2020 hot trend and southern California retailer Gelson scores with its private label wine.

How important is supermarket wine? Pretty damned important, if this study from the American Association of Wine Economists is accurate. Its numbers show that the 30 biggest wine brands in the U.S. – all mostly supermarket labels costing $10 or less – accounted for 49.8 percent of the wine sold in the U.S. by volume in 2019. Think about that: There are more than 10,000 wineries in this country, and just 30 labels make up half of the wine sold. But that’s just part of the study. Barefoot and Franzia sell about one of every seven bottles, and their wineries, E&J Gallo and The Wine Group, control almost one of every three bottles sold. And people doubted consolidation matters? The other bit of news about this study? It’s not really news – just a slightly different take on the numbers than the annual Wine Business Monthly report, which will be released in a month or so.

Bring on the sauvignon blanc: Kroger, which ranks among the biggest wine retailers in the country, reports that sauvignon blanc – yes, that sauvignon blanc – was the fourth biggest food and drink trend in its 2,800-store national chain this year. That put the white wine between flavored potato chips and heavy whipping cream, and ahead of chocolate (No. 8) and coffee pods (No. 9). The pandemic and people drinking at home instead of restaurants no doubt accounted for the high ranking, but let’s not overlook relaxed rules on wine shipping and delivery. As noted last week, Kroger has the money and chops to flex its political muscle to keep many of the changes permanent when the pandemic ends.

Private label wine: Southern California grocer Gelson’s Markets expanded its private label wine collection in 2020, taking advantage of the wine glut to offer pricier wines than the stuff in the first item in this post. The chain added four reserve Napa wines, products that can cost as much as $100 with a winery name on them. Gelson’s is a high end retailer with a big wine commitment; about half of is 27 stores have wine bars.

Photo: “Barefoot Wine Display at Ralph’s” by JoeInSouthernCA is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Winebits 676: Prosecco, tariff, e-commerce

proseccoThis week’s wine news: Top Italian producer says cheap Prosecco is undermining the market, plus chefs oppose wine tariff and Kroger becomes top e-commerce company

Cheap Prosecco: A leading Italian producer says too many wineries are selling Prosecco at slashed prices, which is hurting the bubbly. “Prosecco is being sold at below the production cost at some retailers, which is such a big mistake,” Sandro Bottega told a virtual tasting in early December. “I don’t know how or why they do it, but it’s conveying a bad message for consumers about the product.” This is not the first time we’ve seen this complaint; it seems to happen every couple of years. In this, Bottega says producers need to produce less wine, but of higher quality at higher prices.

Chefs vs. tariff: A new chefs group has called for the Biden Administration to end all tariffs on European food, wine, and spirits via executive action on its first day in office. The group, Coalition to Stop Restaurant Tariffs, says tariffs make the pandemic that much worse for restaurants, increasing costs that they can’t already afford. The group is a who’s who of the restaurant business, including Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and New York City’s Daniel Bouloud. This is a big deal, not just because of the names, but also because chefs usually don’t get involved in politics like this.

Kroger e-commerce: Kroger has become the country’s ninth biggest e-tailer, the only grocer to make the list, reports Supermarket News. Why does this matter to wine drinkers? Because more than half of the wine sold in the U.S. is sold in supermarkets, and Kroger is one of the biggest. As such, it has a stake in continuing the growth of on-line wine sales that has taken place during the pandemic – and it will likely want to. I saw Kroger’s political muscle when it bankrolled a wet-dry election in Dallas after the recession; anyone who thinks it will go meekly back to the old days when the pandemic ends is mistaken.

Photo: “Birthday Prosecco” by Mel Sharlene is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Winebits 648: Massachusetts three-tier, AI writing, Amazon grocery

Massachusetts three-tierThis week’s wine news: Massachusetts is one step closer to allowing food stores to sell beer and wine, plus Microsoft axes people for AI writing and Amazon will open a traditional supermarket

Massachusetts three-tier: Supporters of a ballot question that would let Massachusetts convenience and food stores sell beer are step closer to voting on the issue. The state’s highest court rule that an election to allow the sales was constitutional. However, supporters must still gather enough petition signatures to ensure an election. The Massachusetts three-tier system is complicated, even for for the U.S., with state and local governments each issuing liquor licences based on a variety of criteria. The ballot measure would let local authorities issue licenses allowing food stores to sell beer and wine over and above the current system.

Thank you, Microsoft: The Wine Curmudgeon’s disdain for Microsoft is well known, but its recent decision to fire people in favor of machines is a bit much even for the tech giant. It will replace 50 journalists with artificial intelligence machines to edit news stories for the company’s MSN website. As noted on the blog, AI is coming – but it’s not here yet with something as simple as tasting notes. And asking AI to select stories and photos for the website – deciding story importance, how the pictures look, story and photo placement on the page, and so forth – is much harder than writing toasty and oaky (which I know from having done both for my entire professional career). But what do you expect from the company that gave us Windows 8?

Amazon not go? Amazon will open a traditional supermarket – and not an Amazon Go store – in suburban Chicago. This is huge news, and not just for Kroger and Safeway. If Amazon is serious about the grocery business, it will have to sell wine. So will it follow the others and throw up a Great Wall of Wine with fake priceing plonk or actually do something creative to benefit wine drinkers? The new store isn’t far from my mom; after Illinois lift its lockdown, I’ll ask her to investigate for the blog.

Winebits 634: Barefoot, supermarket wine, artificial wine

barefoot wineThis week’s wine news: Barefoot wine sells some 18 million cases a year, which is no doubt why Google likes it so much. Plus, a look at on-line wine sales and more news about artificial wine

Big, big Barefoot: How much wine does Barefoot sell each year? How about 18 million cases? That would make it the fifth biggest producer in the country if it wasn’t owned by E&J Gallo, which is the biggest. In this, the various Barefoot brands could account for as much as 2 ½ percent of all the wine sold in the U.S. each year. Is it any wonder, then, that Google sends so many people who are searching for Barefoot to the blog? Or that three Barefoot items were in the top four of the most read blog posts in 2019? That Barefoot is thriving while the rest of the wine business is heading downhill speaks volumes – if anyone in wine is willing to listen.

If Amazon can’t. … : One of the great puzzles in the wine business is Internet sales. Supermarkets in particular would love to do it, but three-tier makes it much more difficult than selling razors and mattresses, two categories that have been able to embrace e-commerce. Notes consultant Zac Brandenberg: “But neither market presents anywhere near the opportunity that beverage alcohol does. Wine alone is a $70 billion market with less than one percent commerce penetration — signaling an enormous untapped opportunity for retailers and wineries.” But how do supermarkets do that, when Amazon failed three times? Brandenberg suggests using the Internet for local delivery, just like the local Kroger, Wegman’s, and Albertson’s do for food. The cost could be enormous, but he says he expects retailers to do what needs to be done because the profits would be so immense.

Hold the grapes: The company has a new name, but it says it’s ready to give the world wine made without grapes. Hence, an Italian-style sparkling wine made with a combination of ethanol (the alcohol bit), assorted flavors, and caramel color and beta carotene for color. Interestingly, the latter can oxidize, which would mean fake wine can go off just like real wine. We covered the story on the blog almost three years ago when the company was called Ava, but the questions remain. Why does the world need this?

Winebits 633: Supermarket wine prices, liquor stores, wine influencers

supermarket wineThis week’s wine news: Supermarket wine prices vary significantly from state to state, plus a study says liquor stores and high crime are related and the FTC is going after social media influencers

Supermarket wine prices: A home product review and renovation site says U.S. supermarket wine prices vary significantly by state, with Mississippi and Georgia selling the most expensive bottles. I mention this not because it’s news to anyone who spends any time on the blog, but because it’s always fascinating to see how non-booze sites deal with wine. To its credit, House Method, which did the survey, doesn’t draw any conclusions about why there is such disparity. (Or explain how it bought wine in supermarkets in states without supermarket wine sales.) The results, at the link, are interesting, if nothing else. Who knew red wine was less expensive in Hawaii than in California?

Less booze, less crime? That’s the approach one study is urging on Baltimore officials as city leaders rewrite its zoning laws, with an eye toward reducing the number of liquor stores and bars in the city. North Carolina researchers used a computer model that took into account homicide rates in Baltimore, as well as previous research that showed one-half of violent crime can be attributed to alcohol access. The result? The study found that cutting the number of alcohol outlets might reduce homicides by as many as 50 a year, as well as generate savings of as much as $60 million annually.

Watch out, influencers: The Federal Trade Commission, which regulates advertising, will apparently clamp down on all those Instagram and social media influencers. The agency wants to know if consumers understand how influencers work; that is, that they are paid to endorse products and that they must disclose paid endorsements. This will matter in wine, given the increasing role influencers play in pushing products like rose.