One of Britain’s bigger supermarket chains tried to turn its back on heavy wine discounting in November – and was reportedly rewarded by falling sales and a reduced market share. Many of its customers, it seems, simply won’t buy wine when it is not offered at apparently attractively low promotional prices. To most readers of this piece, that attitude is probably hard to understand: wine forms part of their weekly shopping list and a discount of any kind simply shifts their focus from one bottle to another.
Many of those supermarket customers, however, I suspect view wine in much the same way that I view smoked salmon. I like it; in fact I like it a lot, but it’s far from a necessity in my fridge and I generally hesitate when I consider how much the purchase of 200g is going to add to amount of cash I’ll be handing over at the checkout. When I see a half-price offer on smoked salmon, I’m much more likely to buy it. Most weeks, there’s no smoked salmon in my basket. Maybe many “wine drinkers” take a similar view.
When the recession was in its early stages, Tesco recorded that 400,000 of its customers had simply stopped buying wine – a number that apparently grew as austerity bit more deeply. Of course wine drinking is a relatively recently acquired habit for many in the UK. It is instructive to look across the channel where the tradition of washing a meal down with wine is more deeply ingrained. The 2010 official French figures (produced by Agrimer on the basis of a survey of 4000 representative consumers) suggest that wine’s place on the dinner table is no longer nearly as secure as one might suppose. Less than a third (31%) say that wine is “almost always” or “often” present when people are eating a “meal produced with care”. Five years earlier, the figure was 39%.
A French dinner party laid for ten is, according to the same research, may well include two guests (18%) who rarely or never consume the wine on the table. (Again, the figure has risen from 16% in 2005).
Until those of us who treat wine as part of our daily lives (and, in many cases refuse to accept the validity of these Gallic statistics) acknowledge that we might not be typical examples of the animal officially known as “wine drinker”, we are not going to be able to engage in a meaningful conversation about the way the wine industry should be run. Listening to some of us pontificating about vintages, regionality, terroir and the need to stop discounting in the UK is like overhearing a team from the Royal Opera House discussing the way they are going to run a pop radio station.
I happen to dislike the dishonesty of fake half-price discounting of wine, and frankly wonder when I see the “half-price” sticker on the pack of smoked salmon. But when it’s a product I’ve bought and enjoyed in the past, do I pop it in my basket? Of course I do. Along, I’d guess, with 90% of the people I see in these discussions lamenting the existence of the BOGOF wine offer.