Retailers' fear of the wine category is impeding their profitability, says Alan Toft

Independents and multiple c-stores know that wine is a real magnet for shoppers. Lidl, for example, boasts in its latest letter-box mailer that its wines came second only to Waitrose in a big wine tasting competition which also included Tesco, Asda and the Co-operative Group.

The Lidl offering, which ranges from as little as £2.99 to £3.79, would surely make the heart of any wholesale company wine buyer burst with pride. But three bottles for £10 are common offers everywhere, and two for £5 isn't unheard of.

Readers may not be aware of the investment, energy and expertise applied to the wine category in wholesalers' buying offices.

Wholesalers make huge efforts to get good deals on the best big brands and own labels for independents, and provide core ranging and prices to meet most consumers' needs.

Objective guidance on product selection and display is also on offer to independents. One major supplier's team is visiting stores right now to help retailers, and wholesalers also offer their planograms for free.

So why is it that customers are propelled to the multiples week after week? Could it be due to national press wine writers eagerly endorsing this red and that white?

I cannot remember ever having seen a national symbol group, where often wines are of an equal or better value, benefiting from this kind of free promotion.

There are weaknesses in the independent's wine profit plan and it boils down to one thing: fear. Some retailers tell me that they agonise over which products to select; they find the whole thing far too complex.

But the truth is, it's not complex at all, especially not with the generous availability of wine guidance on tap. All you have to do is ask.