It is always gratifying, and something of a relief, to have one’s hunches confirmed by hard facts. That’s why, as the author of The return of the independent wine merchant, I was particularly pleased to read the results of a survey of independent wine retailers in the UK last weekend.
Off Licence News, in conjunction with the thoroughly on-the-ball Wines of Chile generic promotional organisation, has just conducted a survey of 512 independents and found ‘spectacular growth’ in the sector, with 35 per cent of them having opened since 2000, and 10 per cent in 2005 alone.
Even more cheering for the overall picture of the British wine buyer is that the average price paid per bottle is 77 per cent higher than in the supermarkets and off-licence chains: £7.24 as opposed to the average of £4.10 reported by the likes of market researchers AC Nielsen who monitor the mass market.
The supermarkets in particular are feeling especially gloomy at the moment about the prospects of weaning their wine-buying customers off specially discounted bottles and up the price scale. Average Australian wine prices have suffered particularly from what one might call promotions fever and the head of Wines of Australia in the UK and Ireland has been quoted as saying “the question is certainly being asked: can we afford to be in the UK any more? It’s too difficult and there are other opportunities. America is a big value opportunity and China and emerging markets are huge opportunities.” (The US has at last overtaken the UK as the number one importer of Australian wine by value.)
But there will surely be a fine match between Australia’s smaller wine producers, who cannot afford special promotions with the multiple retailers, and Britain’s smaller independent wine merchants who can hand sell their wares. As Simon Evans of The Naked Grape in Alresford, Hampshire (where the late, great wine lover and cricket commentator John Arlott lived) reports, “Price is not the most important thing for our customers. It’s what the wine tastes like and we don’t sell anything we haven’t tasted ourselves and are prepared to recommend.”
Nearly 18 per cent of the independents questioned reported an average selling price of over £10 a bottle – a very different picture from the conventional one of us Brits as remorseless skinflints.