The Demise of Supermarket Wine

The current offers thread throws some light on the demise of supermarket wine in general.
I said many years ago that ‘once the supermarkets had taken over the bulk market’ we would see the slow demise of what is offered and the preponderance of own label and big brands.

And so it has come to pass, remember the days when Waitrose lead the charge on the fine wine front using MW as buyers and promoters, only to see the likes of Tesco and others poach them.
These were the days when Tesco in particular not only had a constantly changing range and a fine wine section but also a very succesful online Wine Direct dept, Sainsburys had similar, all now gone.
The competition between them all kept the wine depts on their toes with many top end wines appearing at discounted prices, alas it was all short lived, Tesco who were almost certainly top of the heap re their online sales are now the worst of them all with hardly any wines outside of own label and big brands, as for the others they really don’t have to try very hard as only Waitrose offer anything out of the ordinary and even they have cut back, see the Champagne sparkling wine section as an example, and despite being half decent it has become somewhat moribund.
All this of course should be good news for the likes of TWS but few who shop at the big supermarkets venture far for an alternative, those far of days when there was real competiion between the big stores has gone, along with their stranglehold on the sector it has reduced supermarket wines to a sea of mediocracy across the sector.

Whether this is good bad or indifferent doesn’t seem to matter, supermarket sales going by the latest figures have remained pretty constant which means they don’t really have to worry about what the likes of TWS and similar wine drinkers think, they have achieved their market share.

22 Likes

I agree with a lot of which you clearly state above. The likes of innovative and genuinely interested ‘wine buyers’ like Alan Cheeseman at JS are all long gone. I’m afraid the rot set in with supplier-driven category management systems. The only two wines I buy in Sainsbury now are TTD Ventoux and TTD Maremma and those, only when 25% off six!

7 Likes

30 years ago I worked as a Wine Buyer at Sainsburys for a couple of years and Alan Cheeseman was my boss for some of that time. He had a soul and knew when to show kindness to employees and suppliers. I have not kept a close eye on what goes on since but I think the promotional strategy has got out of hand. Supermarkets now sell about 90% of their volume on promotion and have somewhat devalued the notion of a genuine price reduction in my view. I feel prices are artificially raised so when discounted they can make normal margins on promotion. While fruit and vegetable prices rise and fall due to availabilty, so are typically expensive early in the season when there is little available, and are at their best and cheapest when there is a mid season glut, wine prices do not often vary to such an extent. But promotions do work. If I am shopping in a supermarket I usually buy items on promotion, especially when I am not sure what to buy, as the price for most items is more likely to be fair.

21 Likes

I agree as well. A few years ago I was a big fan of the M&S range as in addition to all the mainstream options there were some good ‘off the beaten track’ wines to choose from. I enjoyed working my way through the selection and learned a lot about wine in the process. The wines changed from one year to the next and I really got the impression that M&S were working hard to keep things current and interesting.

Sadly the range nowadays is quite poor and as others have said seems to have a heavy focus on using special offers and price reductions to drive sales. So I rarely buy any wine from M&S which, I suppose, is good news for TWS.

I don’t know other supermarket ranges that well but find Lidl’s rotating Wine Tour to be reasonable VFM with some interesting options (a named CdR village for £8 in the most recent selection).

8 Likes

Yes promotions are a bit like those shiny gold medal labels. Take Wine Direct - always got some 20%, 25% reduction offer on the go. I do use them sometimes because they often have some good wines - the Zorah Armenian Areni Noir for example - but their “discounted” prices more or less match what others have at normal prices.

I had the misfortune to have to go my local Tesco today in search of mushrooms as our local greengrocer had none, and noticed, again, how many wines were “on offer” or special Club Card discount prices… not one of them tempted me. But they do consistently stock one of the more tolerable ubiquitous wines - Perrin’s red La Vielle Ferme - it’s never “discounted” but at around £6 it’s pretty much what you’d pay for it in France. So, yes, I don’t buy into these discounted wine prices unless it’s a wine you’d proactively want to buy in the first place. If that makes sense ?

3 Likes

FWIW, my major irritation with supermarket wine, and the likes of Majestic, is the lack of transparent pricing. Good wines, at a reasonable cost, can still be had from all the major retailers, but only, if you care to check the fine details as to their source and have some knowledge as to their true worth.

As snobbish as this may sound, IMO they trade off the consumer’s ignorance, which can often apply equally to the food they sell as well. My general rule of thumb, these days, is to never buy anything from them at full price. That said, my heart goes out to some of their suppliers., especially those in home grown fruit and veg, whose profit margins have been slashed to the bone, often, to the point of no longer being viable.

Getting back to the point in question, for the reasons above, that’s why I buy 95% of my wines from TWS ( and most of my meat / game / fish from independent suppliers ) as the quality, for the price paid, is far superior.

Finally with regard to Alan Cheeseman, I owe that man an enormous debt of gratitude ( my bank account balance may agree to differ though ) as it was his selections, way back in the mid 1980’s, that engendered my interest in wine in the first place. Er, before that, I just drank for effect, and not pleasure !

19 Likes

Sorry to strike a discordant note among this ‘it’s all going to the dogs’ motif but supermarket wine has always been rubbish, but there seems to be a much broader range of rubbish now than when I was young.

4 Likes

@Toby.Morrhall Do you remember the Daily Telegraph/Sainsbury wine tasting competitions? I used to help Alan with those back in the day!

1 Like

What we forget is that back in the 1980s there was a vast amount of dross sold in this country. The one thing that supermarkets achieved in the long run was to improve quality, starting with hygiene. Supermarkets are ruthless on cleanliness. They also know what their customers want. That is why they have been so successful.
The reality is that the average price for a bottle of wine in the UK is £6.50 (give or take a few pence). In other words, low price, bad value. What is the sense in paying HMRC over £3 for a bottle of something that costs 75p. But that does not matter to the vast majority of wine drinkers in the UK. They just want a cheap bottle of wine.
Supermarkets understood the volume market. That is their business and life blood. That is because what drives us in this country is price. Each week when I read the Times wine columns and look at the readers’ comments time and again price dominates the discussion. It is the same in other papers.
When it comes to wine, what the vast bulk of people want in this country is a fresh alcoholic fruit drink. They could not care less about what is in it, how it’s made or whether it is organic or not.
I have tasted several sub £8.00 bottles from supermarkets and basically they are good. Sometimes very good. I am sure the odd dud gets through quality control, but basically supermarkets serve the sub £10 bottle market extremely well.

16 Likes

I can recall seeing Musar and the likes in Sainsbury’s in the 1990s and early 2000s. Not sure that they would ever sell anything so interesting at the moment.

1 Like

Not only Musar but the second wine of Chateau Latour, ‘Les Forts de Latour’ and various Penfolds, all of which are now in triple digits for a single bottle! What do others recall?

1 Like

These people come up with some interesting stuff. Nothing here most people here aren’t aware of, but perhaps helpful to see some numbers.

3 Likes

I think this is right. I have a Morrisons close by and if you go for their wine (rather than industrial blockbusters) it rarely is bad. I’d say these days truly bad wine is actually quite rare. You might find wine that is concocted and unnatural (like aforementioned industrial blockbusters), bland and not memorable (lot of sub £8 wine) but rarely truly bad.

Re: supermarkets. I did a lot of my exploration of non-Spanish wine in Sainsbury’s in the late 2000s and it was not too bad. TTD regularly had decent examples of key styles and regions, although never the most exciting you’d find if you homed in in that region. I used to get their Priorat regularly when it was going for £6. I do think their range has narrowed since and the quality has fallen in order to keep prices low. Some supermarkets still have interesting wines like some of the M&S Found ones or a lot of the good but fairly unsung Morrisons The Best (their white Rioja Reserva is good VFM, some of their New World wines are very good). But, yes, they are all chasing lower production costs and regions to keep wines in that £5-10 range. Sometimes they hit on something good, sometimes they miss.

3 Likes

I agree. If you want to find truly bad wine, you generally need to go to a restaurant.

8 Likes

Thank you. This confirms the usual advice that you should pay at least £10 if not £15 to get a reasonable share of wine in the price (value of the wine approaching cost of the taxes). I know there are cans, mixed cases, etc., to disrupt the figures, but a quick check of ‘all wines’ on the WS site shows almost a quarter under £10 and another quarter £10-£15.

Thinking about this, actually to get truly bad wine you most likely have paid at least £12 for the privilege and it is corked, spoiled, has brett, etc. A £5.50 Lidl Chenin Blanc is likely made in SA from pasteurised juice and fermented with inoculated yeast in a production facility with the quality controls of a commercial lager brewery. Then it is shipped in a container and bottled at destination in screwcap with healthy additions of sulfites. It’s way more likely to be bland, unremarkable, too hot, etc., than actually bad.

2 Likes

I didn’t witness it myself, but about 13/14 years ago, someone I know came across Penfolds Grange at a ridiculously low price in a branch of Sainsbury’s. He bought every bottle they had.

I’ve posted this picture before, but moving forward to Sainsbury’s Fine Wine shelves this year…

Agree that large supermarkets (Waitrose excepted, even if they have declined) have generally given up on more expensive still wine. The most expensive pre-discount wine I see in my local Sainsbury’s is about £30, and that’s an outlier, there is very little above £20, save maybe Cloudy Bay SB and one or two other things the general public vaguely thinks of as expensive. It’s simple shelf space economics for them, big brands aside it just doesn’t shift fast enough.

As a small example, as was posted here, Tesco was recently stocking the new incarnation of Le Cigare Volant. Didn’t take long for it to be on clearance, just too niche for them. Most people don’t know what a Rhône blend is, never mind a Californian version, and they won’t pay £20 for it. Many of them would, however, recognise the name Châteauneuf-du-Pape even if they don’t make the connection, so a limited amount of that makes the shelves.

There’s more margin for supermarkets in the £8-10 range, especially own-brand. Look at eye-level shelves in a store, that’s what they want you to buy. Cheaper stuff that people will go looking for anyway is at the bottom. Now more than ever in recent memory, supermarkets are under pressure to keep prices lower and know that their customers (in the aggregate) want a cheap, easy drinking bottle, as mentioned above.

5 Likes

Looking at that image more closely… Strangely I’ve never found Jam Shed Red Blend for £6 in TWS fine wine section :thinking:

1 Like

You need to be on the site at 6.38am on a Wednesday, it will be gone by 6.40 :wink:

9 Likes

Haha :joy: :rofl:

2 Likes