Oddbins, the UK's most distinctive chain of wine stores, has announced the end of all price promotions, discounts and special offers on single bottles of wine from 21 aug. I pointed out recently how penny-conscious the new owners, Castel of Bordeaux are in our discussion of temperatures of bottles in wine store windows. Now, with so many fewer special offers to feature, the windows are presumably going to much barer than before and the bottles even more vulnerable to the predations of light and heat.
It's a brave move, however. The UK market has become so dependent on price promotions that according to some estimates more than 65 per cent of all wine is now sold on promotion in the UK. This has had such a dampening effect on suppliers' margins that big companies like Constellation claim it's hardly worth doing business in the UK any more. Now if one of the big supermarkets were to follow the Oddbins lead, this would really have an effect.
You might be surprised that, as a consumer advocate, I am not thrilled by the fact that British wine drinkers have, on the face of it, been getting so many good deals. But the overall effect of all this discounting has been to drag wine quality down along with prices and to reduce our delicious favourite drink to a dreary commodity. It has also brought a certain cynicism in both retailers and their customers. The retailers are sold wine X on the basis that it is priced at, typically, "£6.99, £4.99 on promotion", when everyone knows that it is really only worth £4.99 and carries the £6.99 price tag only so that the retailer can trumpet "£2 off".
Oddbins say that they will retain their long-running six for five promotion on champagne (which is generally the only sensible way to buy champagne from Oddbins) and that they will also offer a 20 per cent discount on six-bottle purchases of the wines for which they are exclusive UK high street retailer which apparently constitutes 90 per cent of their range.
They say they want to "give a clear and genuine guide to customers on quality versus price" which is thoroughly admirable, if brave considering theirs are some of the highest prices of all.