Last-minute shopping and a general need for good cheer could put the fizz back into wine sales for c-stores as shoppers trade up for Christmas

With Christmas falling on a Saturday this year it's likely that even more people than usual will leave it until the last knockings to buy gifts and festive wine supplies.Many families could end up leaving themselves very little time to prepare for Christmas Day if they work right up until the end of the week, and this means that convenience stores could be in the perfect position to cash in on shoppers looking for last-minute purchases.

Of course, supermarkets will also be making efforts to draw in these consumers; most now have their own chiller cabinets for impulse wine sales, for example. So what can the sector do to encourage shoppers to make convenience stores their first port of call for festive wine purchases?

Jimmy Dhaliwal, who runs a Bargain Booze in Atherstone, Warwickshire, has introduced a number of tactics to help his store win this battle.

He says: "The decision I've made this year is to specialise in stuff the big stores won't do," he says. "I've got an Old Winery feature with wine packed in wooden boxes with straw packaging. I have more fine wines now priced at £15 a bottle. People are watching their pennies, but they still want quality."

That's the rate at which sparkling wine is growing year on year, ahead of the total still wine market which is up 3%, according to Treasury Wine Estates.
The best strategy, according to Dhaliwal, is to remain one step ahead of the big retailers. He adds: "Last Christmas we struggled to hit our targets as people cut back, so another thing I'm doing this year is to offer a special gift service, where I will wrap the wines in tissue paper and put them in special bags. I bought them just after Christmas last year, planning ahead!"

As usual the message for white and sparkling is chill, chill, chill, and Dhaliwal has spent £30,000 on refrigeration so that every one of his white, rosé and Champagne skus can be bought chilled no mean feat considering he stocks 300 white wines alone.

And with 90% of wine purchased in convenience stores consumed on the same day, according to data by research and consulting company HIM, it's clear that chilling as many wines as possible is still one of the best opportunities for a store to boost wine sales.

Just chill

"Having a well-stocked chilled selection of branded white and rosé wines is essential," confirms E& J Gallo Winery channel controller for UK impulse, David Mallory.

And, as Mallory points out, the two growth areas in this category rosé and sparkling wine mean that a convenience store's chiller cabinets will not sit redundant in the corner.

Wine giant Pernod Ricard UK confirms that stocking a selection of rosé wines is essential.

"Shoppers are thinking 'pink' rosé continues to show strong growth and is increasingly meeting the needs of shoppers during the festive season," says customer development director Dan Reuby. "Last Christmas rosé showed the greatest volume growth in light wine (10.6%), while also delivering the greatest number of cases sold."

Space in the chillers should also be reserved for a selection of sparkling options. The latest figures show that the sparkling wine market is currently worth £336m and is growing at 10% year on year, compared with the total market for still wine, which shows an increase of 3%, according to data by Foster's EMEA, owners of the wine company Treasury Wine Estates.

"Sparkling wines are very important at this time of year, and at Treasury Wine Estates we have a number of styles to suit all occasions," explains business section controller Jon Worsley. The company has sparkling options under brands including Wolf Blass, Lindemans and Beringer.

Wine buyers agree that sparkling is the sector to keep an eye on this Christmas. "Within sparkling I predict Prosecco will sell well this Christmas," confirms Nisa trading controller Steve Makin.

Figures also show some recovery for Champagne in the at-home market, with sales up significantly (12.5% in volume and 7.7% in value) in the year to May following the marked decline since 2007, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).

This is confirmed by Pernod's Reuby, who stresses that retailers should not forget about Champagne sales. "Champagne sales peak at Christmas so therefore ensure that you stock a strong range of Champagnes from well-known houses. If you only have a limited selection of Champagnes, consider expanding the portfolio over the festive period so all styles are stocked, including rosé."

Trading up

It's not just Champagne that shoppers are prepared to fork out for at Christmas. "Premium wine occasions peak at Christmas time," explains Reuby. As an example, he points out that New Zealand wine, such as the producer's Brancott Estate, commanded a high average price point last Christmas at £5.85.

Display hints: Show it off
Research by Treasury Wine Estates shows that a customer spends, on average, less than six minutes in store. So it makes sense to think about how wine is displayed to make it easier for shoppers to make their selections. One of the things that can help, according to Treasury Wine Estates, is to ensure that the fixture size is based on a ratio of space to sales. "If wine accounts for 12% of your sales then it should get 12% of your store space," explains business section controller Jon Worsley. Pernod's data shows that only 36% of convenience store shoppers believe the 'fizz' fixture is interesting to look at, so think of ways to create a sense of excitement. Sparkling wine is generally about celebrating, so a lively and fun fixture will suit the category. Nisa trading controller Steve Makin also stresses the importance of good merchandising techniques. "Independent retailers can compete with the big stores if they offer a good breadth of range across all price points and merchandise according to planograms," he says.
Consumers are also willing to pay more for other popular varietals such as pinot grigio, explains Continental Wine & Food (CWF) marketing manager Vicky Lee.

"This Christmas offers many opportunities for Italian wine sales, which continue to thrive within the off-trade, and research indicates that consumers will be happy to pay more than £5 per bottle for the quality which Italy has on offer," she says. "Much of this growth has been on the back of the classic pinot grigio wines from regions such as Veneto in northern Italy, but more recent growth has been seen from classic varietals such as nero d'Avola from Sicily, primitivos from Puglia and sparkling wines such as CWF's prosecco, Casa Gheller."

In fact, it seems that the trend for trading up in wine isn't limited to Christmas, with the average price per bottle of wine on the increase throughout the year.

"The growth in the £6 to £7 and the £9 to £10 price ranges does suggest that while consumers may be cutting back on spending elsewhere, the attraction of a better bottle of wine at home is tempting wine drinkers to spend a little more," says WSTA chief executive Jeremy Beadles.

This means there's even more reason for the convenience sector to encourage the consumer to trade up over the festive season, as Gallo's Mallory confirms.

"During Christmas people are short on time and looking for something special. They are buying wine for gifts and parties, so stocking wines at a higher price point will effectively encourage consumers to trade up."

Mallory gives the example of trading up from Gallo Family Vineyards (£5.99) to the company's Turning Leaf range (£6.99).

In addition to this, it's important to keep an eye on brands that are being supported this Christmas via high-profile marketing campaigns.

Constellation, which produces Hardys, Echo Falls, Stowells and Kumala, always makes sure its brands are front of mind for consumers during the festive season. It says it had a good Christmas last year with increases of 15% in volume in the on- and off-trades versus Christmas 2008, so expectations are high for 2010.

This year its Hardys brand will be on TV throughout the run-up to Christmas via its multi-million pound sponsorship of Channel 4's Come Dine With Me.

Constellation is also investing in its South African brand Kumala, with a cash and carry promotion offering retailers the chance to win a shop refit and support package worth £20,000.

Pernod Ricard's Jacob's Creek brand will be on TV in the weeks before Christmas through its True Character advertising, and its Brancott Estate brand will air its new ad campaign which reinforces its premium position.

For CWF, promotional activity will be focused on its Harvest Fruits Mulled Wine brand. Display promotions will aim to show how this ready-made option can give a much-needed boost to sales. 

Ones to watch... 

Lighter option 
Constellation launched its Echo Falls Spritz pinot grigio earlier this year, which taps into the trend for lighter drinking and for pinot grigio. The 4% abv drink is a blend of wine and sparkling water, which comes in a "portion controlled" 250ml serving. Spritz, which is designed to appeal to female drinkers, also contains just one unit of alcohol and 110 calories in each bottle. tel: 01483 690000 

All white Landmark 
Wholesale's latest exclusive wine The Narrows is a single vineyard sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. According to Landmark trading controller John Fergusson-Cooper, the wine gives independent retailers the opportunity to offer a high-quality wine at an attractive price (rrp £5.49), while also commanding a good profit margin. tel: 01908 255300 

One for the boys
Californian wine brand Redwood Creek has added a new line to its UK portfolio with the launch of pinot noir. The wine producer describes the new addition as having a smooth, medium-bodied finish with notes of cherries and raspberry. The Redwood Creek brand was launched into the UK in 2009 and was one of the first wine brands to specifically target the male wine drinker. tel: 01895 813444

Café culture
FirstCape Wines now has a range of low-alcohol wines. The Café Collection comprises five lighter-style wines, each at 5.5% abv. Within the range, the whites, reds and rosé still wines come from South Africa and Australia, while the sparkling white is from South Africa. FirstCape says it expects the low-alcohol wines to be particularly popular with women. rrp: £3.99 tel: 01306 875552 

It's a gift
This year Pernod Ricard is bringing out Sparkling Brut and Sparkling Rosé price-marked gift packs for its Jacob's Creek brand. Also new is a Jacob's Creek Sparkling chardonnay pinot noir and sparkling rosé variant in a black gift box with gold ribbon, rrp £9.59. A gift pack for the Three Vines sub-range completes the line-up. Three Vines includes a white, red and rosé, rrp £22.65. tel: 020 8538 4484