Top 6 Wine List Success Strategies Restaurants Must Employ Post COVID-19

July 15, 2020 § Leave a comment

This year, 2020, will be my 42nd year in the alcohol beverage industry, and the 20th anniversary of supplying the wine industry with on-premise insights through Winemetrics and its predecessor company. During those 20 years, I have visited at least 100 different restaurants each year to keep my finger on the pulse of restaurant wine service. It is based on this experience that I make the following observations and recommendations.

  1. Post your current wine list information online.
    It’s hard to believe this still happens, but for some reason, a sizable portion of the chains we survey don’t post this information on their websites. With restaurants now struggling for revenue, you would think this to be a no-brainer. Want high-value wine consumers to come to your restaurant? – Let them know what you are serving! The corollary to this is posting a selection online and having it out of date. With the option of merely posting the PDF wine list you currently print for your wine service, is there any excuse for this shortcoming?
  2. Offer separate Dine-In and Take Out/Delivery Menus for Wine (with lower pricing on takeout menus)
    Most restaurants have figured out that they need more value-oriented offerings on their take out/delivery food menus, offering family meals and comfort food to  patrons unable to commit to in-house dining during these uncertain times. Sadly, this rationale does not extend to the wine list, where the same list is nearly always used for both.  Any savvy wine consumer is more than willing to pay a certain price for wine served in fine stemware and at the appropriate temperature, possibly with a recommendation from a knowledgeable sommelier. That same wine stuffed into a delivery bag with none of these accoutrements must understandably be priced lower.
  3. Offering a larger variety of serving sizes to accommodate specific consumption opportunities
    Many wine consumers, especially crowd-wary Boomers, would prefer to have their wine delivered to their home or table without the need of a server or corkscrew. Half-bottles and cans in 375 ml, 750 ml screwcap bottles, even 500 ml – 1 liter  bag-in-box all provide a safer and more varied selection of consumption options. According to the National Restaurant Association, 56 percent of adult consumers said they would be likely to order alcoholic beverages if they were offered as part of a food delivery order from a restaurant (as quoted by FSR Magazine). With over 40 states permitting wine sales with take out/delivery, restaurants must endeavor to not just provide wine variety, but also convenient serving sizes. Personally, I am far more likely to order two 375 ml corkless containers with my takeout order than a bulkier and more fragile 750 ml corked bottle.
  4. Utilize the expertise of restaurant beverage professionals to sell more wine for delivery.
    Unlike retail stores, where many of the wines are chosen on brand name and/or retailer incentives, most wines on restaurant wine lists are competitively tasted prior to their selection. Such personal endorsements should be leveraged to promote wine purchases for delivery. In fact, this tactic should be utilized for both the Dining-In and TakeOut/Delivery wine lists.  Who could resist ordering a half bottle or bottle of wine personally recommended by the beverage manager or sommelier of a favorite restaurant?
  5. Pay attention to regional differences
    I have never been a fan of the one-size-fits-all wine list as practiced by some national chains. Regional differences are now mandatory in the age of COVID-19 where some states are shut down, while others have opened for in-house dining. A number of regional chains, e.g. those in New England, have now been able to re-open all of their units. Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic states are far more open to imports while the West Coast and Central States may focus more on domestic producers. Beer and cocktail lists have embraced regional differences for years; it is time for restaurant wine lists to catch up.
  6. Elicit feedback or providing access to loyalty programs and incentives
    In the thousands of restaurants I have visited over the years, I cannot remember a one asking me specifically to evaluate the wine selection. Food and service, yes, but my opinion on the wine list, never. When I have found a particularly good list, I would write a personal complimentary note and include my business card. The number of times I was contacted by a restaurant, often after spending a substantial sum of money? Maybe twice. Restaurants in the COVID-19 environment are going to depend on repeat business. Would it be giving away too much if the clientele that spent more than $100 received a free glass of wine (where legal), an appetizer or a discount with a significant dinner order to encourage a repeat visit?  It is time for the restaurant industry to collectively take a direct marketing course to understand the huge cost difference in acquiring new customers vs. retaining existing ones. Hint: the free glass of wine/appetizer will pay massive dividends.

 

The Post COVID-19 era will transform on-premise wine service. This is the first of many updates regarding the changes required by restaurants to meet evolving demands.

Meeting the Challenges of the COVID-19 Impact On-Premise

July 9, 2020 § Leave a comment

July 9, 2020

Winemetrics is revising its focus to deal with the post COVID-19 on-premise market. Below are our findings based on current and past research as well as anecdotal observations based on 35 years of personal on-premise sales and marketing experience. (Also, Winemetrics is based in Fairfield County, CT, part of Metro NYC, which experienced the greatest impact of COVID-19. Having been first and most severely affected, this region is rebounding before many other parts of the country which have yet to see peak infections and deaths).

  1. The State of the COVID-19 Pandemic
    1. As of 6/30/2020, over 10 million people worldwide have been infected with COVID-19, 2.6 million in the US alone, resulting over 500,000 deaths globally of which 127,000 were residents of  our country.

https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

  1. Social distancing will have to remain in effect for months to come to prevent a resurgence in new infections. In places that don’t follow the recommended protocols, there will be a second wave of infections. Based on the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, the second wave could produce more fatalities than the first.
  2. Given Trump’s decision to hold rallies in states where COVID-19 infections are increasing, a second wave is almost inevitable.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/06/10/coronavirus-update-us/

  1. Even without mass rallies, it appears that the increasingly lax behavior of people in all states will not necessarily create a 2nd wave but extend the first wave.

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/12/876224115/coronavirus-second-wave-nope-were-still-stuck-in-the-first-one?utm_source=pocket-newtab

https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/11040335-181/age-of-coronavirus-cases-dropping

 

  1. On-Premise Trends Likely to Remain in Place post COVID-19
    1. Consumer confidence lowest since 2008 so the discretionary spending required to boost restaurant revenues is unlikely to transpire in the near future.
      https://news.gallup.com/poll/312596/economic-confidence-scarce-economy-reopens.aspx
    2. Even with many states moving into Phase 2 of re-opening, overall desire to patronize dine-in locations is historically low, over half of consumers arenot comfortable going to a restaurant.
      https://wineindustryinsight.com/?p=110340
    3. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the U.S. economy, in late 2019, numerous national and regional chains were planning restaurant closures due to stagnant revenues and competitive pressure.

https://www.investing.com/magazine/last-call-restaurant-chains-closing-locations-by-2020/

  1. Industry experts believe over ¾ of independent restaurants may not reopen without financing from the Federal government.
    https://www.fsrmagazine.com/finance/report-85-percent-independent-restaurants-could-close-without-direct-aid?utm_source=fs_insider&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200611
  2. Alcohol sales for delivery will continue as a part of licensed restaurant services throughout most of the country.

Over 40 states permit take-out purchases of wine, a trend that will invariably continue into the foreseeable  future as it provides vital revenue for the restaurant industry which is currently reeling from bankruptcies and foreclosures.
https://www.foleyfoodandwinesociety.com/Magazine/News-and-Articles/New-Alcohol-To-Go-Rules-in-All-50-States?linkNum=3

 

Alcohol sales may well help the restaurant and alcoholic beverage industry survive the pandemic. According to the National Restaurant Association, 56 percent of  adult consumers ( over the age of 21) said they would be likely to order alcoholic beverages if they were offered as part of a food delivery order from a restaurant.

https://www.fsrmagazine.com/expert-takes/alcohol-sales-help-restaurants-stay-afloat-during-pandemic

 

On-Premise Transformation Post COVID-19

  • Nearly all aspects of on-site beverage service will change.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomaspellechia/2020/06/09/post-pandemic-restaurants-will-have-to-change-their-ways/#215078d75a45
  • The mandate for disposable menus will effectively limit beverage list sizes. A one-sheet format of food menu items on one side and beverage items on the other will be widely adopted. Such a format is currently used in many successful chains including Hillstone/Houston’s.
  • The encyclopedic hard copy wine list (wine book) will be retired and replaced with a link or QR code on the food/wine menu. The iPad list may suffer a similar fate as neither can be easily sterilized for rapid reuse by diners.
  • Interaction between restaurant personnel will be reduced or restricted based on the diners’ wishes. Host/Hostesses, servers, wine stewards, bussers may no longer approach tables during the ‘dining event’. Instead diners may be directed to a table, order via smart phones and receive their food on a covered cart by a face-masked server/busser. Diners will access and distribute their orders from the cart which will be equipped with both heating and cooling elements to deliver products at their optimum temperatures.
  • Traditional wine by-the-glass (BTG) and tableside bottle service will most likely be curtailed. The prospect of a wine dispensed into a glass at the ‘bar’ and then transported by hand through the restaurant to a diner may entail unnecessary risk. Single serving (187 ml) and half bottles (375 ml) with Stelvin (screw cap) closures will become preferable to wine BTG. However, wine BTG may actually accelerate if restaurants offer self-serve BTG dispensing activated by a credit card (systems of this sort are already being used to sell beer on-premise).
  • The’ localvore’ movement will continue to accelerate. Diners, especially those in urban/suburban markets, will tend to support locally owned restaurants and beverage suppliers in the aftermath of COVID-19. This may impact sales at national chains and products of larger wine companies.
  • There will be enhanced ‘pursuit of value’ as many consumers will have experienced a decline of income and assets post COVID-19. Higher priced wines may suffer steep declines on-premise if not effectively marketed and/or venues reducing their markups.
  • Restaurants will have to be more effective in managing the online customer experience. Loyalty programs will be vital to a restaurants success. A thorough analysis of the challenges and benefits of this new paradigm is provided in the link below.
  • On-premise programming will not be as effective due to the loss of on-premise salespeople at the distributor level. Most distributors have reduced (in many cases severely) the number of on-premise sales reps on their payroll. It remains to be seen if and when these number return to pre-COVID-19 levels.
    https://www.fsrmagazine.com/consumer-trends/post-coronavirus-changed-restaurant-customer-new-expectations?utm_source=fs_insider&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200617

 

  1. How Wine Suppliers Can Prepare for Post COVID-19 Conditions
    • Make recommendations based on more limited wine selections and lower prices
    • Offer analysis of pre-COVID-19 wine offerings and how they can be modified for the new demand profile.
    • Expand product lines to offer screw cap closures and smaller (375 ml, 187 ml) sizes.
    • Increase offerings of draft wines, including special cuvees that can be offered on a seasonal basis at discounted pricing. These can expand brand awareness without undermining price positioning of the brand.
    • On-premise programming will not be as effective due to the loss of on-premise salespeople at the distributor level. Most distributors have reduced (in many cases severely) the number of on-premise sales reps on their payroll. It remains to be seen if and when these numbers return to pre-COVID-19 levels.

How E&J Gallo Captured the #1 On-Premise Ranking from Constellation Brands*

November 5, 2018 § Leave a comment

In 2013, Constellation Brands (CBrands) had a commanding lead among suppliers on-premise, based on Winemetrics On-Premise Wine Distribution Reports with a 40% lead in combined By-the-Glass (BTG) and By-the-Bottle (BTB) listings over 2nd place E&J Gallo.  By 2017, the same survey placed E&J Gallo (E&JG) in 1st place, with a 12% lead over now #2 CBrands. So what happened to CBrands in 4 short years to have them lose such a commanding lead in wine distribution?

  1. Most of CBrands top 15 brands lost distribution during the 2013-2017 period while a majority of E&JG’s brands gained share.
    During this period, among the top 15 CBrands producers, 11 lost share while just 4 gained distribution share. In contrast, E&JG had 11 brands gain share with only 4 falling in distribution. If we remove the recent CBrands acquisitions (Meiomi, The Prisoner Wine Co.), the top 15 CBrands distribution, would have dropped by nearly 1/3.  
  2. CBrands, with the exception of Pinot Noir, did not invest in varieties that produced significant growth during this period.
    In 2013, CBrands had the number #1 Zinfandel brand, Ravenswood, which was the #2 brand in the CBrands portfolio. It fell to the 14th ranked the brand in the CBrands’ group, having fallen -85% over this period. Likewise, Blackstone, the 4th ranked brand in CBrands’ portfolio in 2013, and the leading Merlot brand at the time, lost -71% of distribution by 2017, and now ranks 12th.

    Of E&JG’s 3 leading brands in 2013, Ecco Domani #1 brand,(Pinot Grigio) grew +7%, while 2013’s #2 (Mirassou) and #3 (Macmurray Ranch) both predominantly Pinot Noir producers, lost double digit share by 2017. E&JG was able to offset these losses with growth by  La Marca (Prosecco), up +147% and Apothic (Red Blend) +465%.

    It could be fortuitous that E&JG invested in varieties that experienced robust growth during this period and CBrands’ misfortune to be heavily invested in varieties (Zinfandel, Merlot) that experienced sharp declines during this period. However, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco and Red Blends, E&JG’s major source of growth,  had been growing for a number of years. However, with 2 robust Pinot Noir brands in 2013 (Mirassou and MacMurray Ranch) it is curious how these brands could not take advantage of this variety’s growth during this period.  It also seems inexplicable that a pre-eminent supplier like CBrands could not effectively promote a brand in these expanding Prosecco, Red Blend and Pinot Grigio segments.  It is interesting to note that the 3 top brands of E&JG were ‘home-grown’ while nearly all of CBrands leading producers were purchased from existing suppliers.

  3. Winemetrics Data Tables
    2013 2017 2107
    Rank #BTG #BTB BTG+BTB % CHG Rank
    Constellation Brands 2416 3211 5627 -21%
    1 Ruffino 198 283 481 -29% 4
    2 Ravenswood 35 68 103 -85% 14
    3 Mondavi Priv. Select. 176 179 355 -42% 6
    4 Blackstone 84 89 173 -71% 12
    5 Woodbridge 90 90 180 -69% 11
    6 Clos du Bois 167 195 362 -35% 5
    7 Estancia 120 181 301 -36% 8
    8 Franciscan 41 264 305 -19% 7
    9 Mark West 305 313 618 83% 9
    10 Crawford, Kim 253 287 540 76% 3
    11 Simi 41 63 104 -62% 13
    12 Hogue 40 49 89 -67% 15
    13 Nobilo 111 120 231 160% 10
    14 Meiomi 286 329 615 ++ 2
    15 The Prisoner Wine Co. 46 203 249 ++ 9
    2013 2017 2017
    Rank #BTG #BTB BTG+BTB % CHG Rank
    E&J Gallo 3078 3241 6319 24%
    1 Ecco Domani 553 552 1105 7% 1
    8 La Marca 362 204 566 147% 2
    11 Apothic 266 265 531 465% 3
    5 Canyon Road 269 253 522 62% 4
    2 Mirassou 211 217 428 -26% 5
    9 Martini, Louis M. 151 195 346 56% 6
    7 Barefoot 152 152 304 24% 7
    4 Alamos 125 134 259 -21% 8
    NA Starborough 108 108 216 ++ 9
    NA The Naked Grape 107 107 214 3467% 10
    12 Dark Horse 82 116 198 161% 11
    10 William Hill 89 104 193 89% 12
    3 MacMurray Ranch 55 100 155 -65% 13
    NA Carnivor 63 65 128 ++ 14
    6 Red Rock 57 60 117 -53% 15
*Based on Winemetrics On-Premise Wine Distribution Reports 2013, 2017 which survey wine distribution in 170 chains and restaurant groups. Only wine distribution is measured in this report, but the assumption incumbent in our report is that chain beverage managers retain brands that provide the most revenue so greater distribution is congruent with greater revenue. Our observations pertain strictly to on-premise analysis based on Winemetrics restaurant database.

 

Profile of the ‘Average’ Casual Dining Wine List

September 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

Winemetrics recently updated its 2016 casual dining wine list data and discovered a number of significant milestones which will be featured in our 2016 Wine Buyer’s Report. However in compiling this data, we were struck by the realization that despite over a decade of providing on-premise market intelligence to the wine industry, we had never sought to define the average casual dining wine list.

In 2016 we surveyed over 110 casual dining chains representing nearly 10,000 accounts throughout the U.S.. For this exercise, we averaged the numbers of By-the-Glass (BTG) and By-the Bottle (BTB) by chain, treating each chain as a single entity, this way distribution in a handful of the largest chains would not overwhelm that of the majority of smaller chains. The average is 20 wines BTG and 22 BTB with 13 varieties offered BTG and 14 available BTB.  The average presence by variety, both By-the-Glass (BTG) and By-the-Bottle is listed below. Note that Syrah/Shiraz is no longer found on the ‘average’ list, its presence is now to minor to make the final cut. Zinfandel is only present as a minor BTB selection and many lists no longer carry this quintessential California variety. Sangiovese just makes the list due to its considerable presence on Casual Italian Chain lists, which represent 13%  of the Casual Dining chains Winemetrics surveys.

casual-wine-list-by-variety

The distribution by brand/variety was similarly calculated; each of the wines listed are ranked by number of chains with distribution,  not total listings. To learn more about brand ranking by variety and account type, please download an excerpt of our 2106 Wine Buyer’s Report from http://www.winemetrics.com.  In varieties were multiple producers are present, they are ranked in descending order from the leading brand. Pricing is also an average across chains

average-casual-wl

 

Should you have any question or comments about the information appearing in this article, please contact us at info@winemetrics.com.

 

Wine’s Crisis On-Premise and How to Resolve It – Part 2

September 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

On-premise wine selections are moving toward uniformity and mediocrity at the same time cocktail and beer lists skew toward variety and innovation.  Here are 5 steps that restaurants can employ  to rectifying this situation and possibly  reversing wine’s continuing decline. Part 3 of this series will deal with wine suppliers and distributors role and how they must step up to resolve this.

  1. Offer a selection of High-Recognition, Emerging and Discovery brands
    In casual chains, Winemetrics encounters a plethora of wines frequently found on the endcaps of retail chains. This would lead me to believe that chain wine buyers are basing their wine selections on the leading brands in retail stores. Can that be possible? While a certain portion of the population may be brand loyal in all occasions, aren’t restaurateurs aware that consumers dine out for variety? Even smaller wine lists can have one or two selections that are not well known but represent superb values. Of course, selling such wines requires some server education, see #5.
  2. Offer value on your wine list
    That doesn’t mean discounts across the board; many chains charge a little more for their by-the-glass selections but offer a steep discount on bottles. Others offer benchmark wines at modest markups. What you don’t want to do is price the wines with a huge retail presence at an excessive mark-up.  Nothing says ‘rip-off’ more than charging +3x standard retail for a bottle everyone know the retail price of. Special Note: If you are a fine dining establishment, don’t offer me the same wine as those I might find in a casual chain (with the accompanying excessive markup). Recently I have found identical wines by-the-glass (BTG) on the lists of fine dining steakhouse chains as those on casual dining chains.  When I see this, I immediately assume that the fine dining establishment doesn’t care about its BTG business and wants to push its customers to purchase an over-priced bottle or is simply to lazy to care about its BTG selection. Again, as a wine consumer I find this insulting and never return to such establishments.
  3.  Publish your wine list online and keep it current
    Nothing upsets me more than a restaurant whose website lauds its awarding winning wine list and brilliant sommelier only to neglect to provide a wine list (with prices) on its website. And nothing is more insulting to a consumer who plans to purchase significant wines with his or her meal only to open a wine list and find them all egregiously overpriced.  I never return to such establishments and I’m certain many other wine aficionados are of the same mind. If you’re going to rip me off, at least have the decency of letting me know in advance so I can make a reservation elsewhere. On the other hand, if you have a great wine program with reasonable prices (are you listening Legal Sea Foods?) then mention it on your website. Looking at many chains’ websites, you wouldn’t even know they even offered wine – unbelievable!
  4. Ask my opinion about my dining (and drinking) experience at your restaurant but provide an incentive
    Nearly every restaurant provides a survey form with the check these days. Most ask about the food quality and service but few ever request input on the beverage program (the most profitable segment of their business!). I generally ignore these as no compensation offered in return for my input. However most consumers would be willing to provide extensive information on their dining experience, preferences and even demographic information if offered an incentive such as a free appetizer or half-price glass of wine on their next visit. Unfortunately, I have yet to see such an offer on any survey in the hundreds of chains I have visited.
  5. Innovation + Education – One won’t work without the other
    A few years ago I was dining out in an upscale casual chain that had a small but excellent list with a number of great values. They also offered flights of any 3 BTG wines for a reasonable price. The only problem was that the server did not know the restaurant offered flights, even though it was prominently printed on the menu (This was one of the savvy chains that actually had the food selections and wine list on the same menu!) Apparently, the server had never been trained on this feature despite his many months of employment and did not know there were special tasting glasses for the flight, so my 2 oz. pours were delivered in the bottoms of 3 balloon glasses.  Sadly, this restaurant chain no longer offers flights nor its interesting and well-priced wine selection. The best wine program in the world won’t work unless some investment in education is made. Predictably, I have not been back to this establishment.

    In Wine Crisis On-Premise and How to Resolve It – Part 3, the final installment on this subject, we examine how wine suppliers, in their pursuit of profits and on-premise hegemony, have been complicit in the decline of their product in the restaurant dining arena.

Wine’s Crisis On-Premise and How to Resolve It – Part 1

August 15, 2016 § 3 Comments

Winemetrics is halfway through its 2016 on-premise wine list surveys, and to be frank, there is very little good news to report. Wine lists are not only decreasing in size but also in variety. Selections are increasingly based on brands controlled by the top 10 suppliers. Since the start of 2015 we have seen many iconic independent wineries ‘absorbed’ by the largest suppliers. Benziger, B.R. Cohn, J. Winery, Orin Swift, Patz & Hall, Siduri, Talbott, The Prisoner to name just the ones that come to mind.  But this decline of wine on-premise is just half of the bad news for wine. The meteoric, unstoppable rise of craft beer and craft cocktails may spell the end of wine on-premise as we know it. The key, and most damning piece of evidence is the admission (in confidence) from wine professionals themselves. When not at company functions or on the corporate  expense account, they are drinking beer and cocktails, simply because there is more variety, flavor and value in the average beer and cocktail list. This is especially true in casual restaurants where the same wine products appear with monotonous regularity. For the record, I am not a proponent of the ‘small is beautiful’ school of wine marketing. Major national brands are extremely important to a segment of wine consumers that seek the comfort of a consistent, well-known producer. However, when these brands or their line extensions dominate wine lists to the exclusion of any innovative or more esoteric products, it is at that point that any wine consumer with a slightly more adventurous palate closes the wine list and orders a beer.  And, I confess, that’s what I do now.

If you believe my observations aren’t supported by facts please click on the link below to Lewis Perdue’s Wine Industry Insights where he features a recent Gallup survey.

From Winemetrics’ observations of hundreds of chains and independent restaurants, it does not appear that the wine industry is taking this threat seriously. As a 35 year veteran of this industry, I have seen trends, brands and fads come and go. I remember vividly a distributor presentation by a wine cooler executive in the 1980’s who extrapolated his brand’s 2 year growth curve a decade into the future, promising his audience of a massive windfall in profits. According to the executive, this was ‘guaranteed’.  It didn’t quite work out that way – has anyone seen a wine cooler recently?

Of course, we cannot lay the blame solely on the wine industry, as the restaurant industry is also complicit in this process. Possibly persuaded by off-premise sales figures and incentives of the larger suppliers, restaurateurs have yielded too much control of their wine lists to big corporate interests. In Part 2, I’ll discuss steps restaurants can take to not only invigorate interest in the wine segment, but actually take ownership of innovation for their wine selections.

 

 

 

Growler USA – Setting High Standards in Beverage Management

July 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Our readers may have taken note of a recent FSR article on Growler USA, a beer-centric chain boasting 100 tap lines and dedicated to serving  craft beverages (including beer, cider, mead and, yes, some wine). According to the article, the chain has plans to expand from 3 to 35 units by the end of 2017. We should note that this concept has precedence with World of Beers, which started with one location in Tampa, Fl in 2007 and is planning to grow to over 100 units by the end of this year. Additionally there are numerous growing regional chains offering a dozen or more drafts and many more craft brews by the bottle. The ones we have surveyed have partnered extensively with local and regional craft brewers and provide vital opportunities for endorsement and consumer trial.

So what compels me to draw your attention to Growler USA? First, they have an unparalleled commitment to serving a superb product, equivalent to a craft brewery tasting room. Second, they are seriously dedicated to providing consumer education, with all of their bartenders qualifying as Cicerone Certified Beer Servers. Third, they are devoted to supporting local, innovative craft beverage producers. Finally, and this is key, every Growler USA location provides a continuously updated list online of all their 100-plus selections with prices, something offered by virtually none of the hundreds of chains and independents that Winemetrics currently surveys. This means that a consumer can be pretty certain that what is on the website is available on tap. I know this is a relatively simple process from a technical standpoint, yet when it comes to craft beer selections, most chain websites merely state, “Ask your server about our selection of craft beers” or words to that effect.  Apparently, informing potential customers about what is being served and at what price, by location, is too much work for the average chain IT department. In fact, there are an increasing number of chains that provide no beverage information on their websites and even fail to provide prices on their printed menus! (More on that issue in a future post).

Congratulations to Growler USA; I hope it prospers and reserves some of its taps for innovative, regional wine producers.

 

(Note: Winemetrics has no relationship whatsoever with Growler USA or anyone associated with the company)

Craft Beer vs. Wine: Innovation vs. Stagnation

July 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

While wine lists across the board are decreasing in size and variety, beer list trajectories are  in the opposite direction, expanding in both size and diversity in even the most casual chain restaurants. Moreover, there has been a quantum leap in beer-oriented chains at all levels of the chain spectrum from national chains such as Yard House and World of Beers, now 70+ units strong, to regional chains such as Eureka  and Plan B.  These chains have certainly been helped by the explosive interest in craft beer,  which has seen growth in both the mundane e.g. Pumpkin Ale, to the esoteric e.g  Gose and Brett-fermented ales.  So why hasn’t the wine industry begun introducing exciting and buzz-worthy products to keep pace with their beer brethren?

The answer lies largely in the attitudes prevailing among the thought leaders in each industry. With few exceptions, the wine industry has doggedly remained loyal to the European concept of wine, that wine is a product of terroir and tradition, e.g. the fixation that the best wines are representative of a specific variety and place. Estate-grown wines of approved varieties or blends that follow traditional production methods are held in the highest esteem by an increasingly narrow group of gatekeepers in both wine production and wine media circles.  Had the beer industry followed the same path, the majority of producers would still be following the Rheinheitsgebot, which dictates that beer consist only of malted barley, yeast, water and hops. And we would never have had the vast array of products that has vaulted the American beer industry from mediocrity to its current apex of innovation and growth.  Fortunately, American beer producers rightly found this European model too constraining and began experimenting with untraditional flavors, fermentation techniques and aging methods.  In a few short decades, American craft beers have become the global standard of beverage innovation. If you had suggested 30 years ago that American brewers would be opening facilities in Germany, the birthplace of modern brewing, you would have been laughed out of the bierstube. In the 1990s, hypothesizing that someday small American brewers might have a market value of over $1 billion (Lagunitas, Ballast Point) would have earned one a trip to a local asylum.  Yet it has come to pass.

What remains puzzling is that, despite craft beer’s incredibly successful example, which has been eating the wine industry’s lunch for the past decade, few wine producers have dared to defy the ossified old guard who continue to enforce the standard of European wine production.  Is it arrogance or merely ignorance that prompted the wine industry to relinquish an entire segment that it should rightfully own –  cider ( a low alcohol fruit wine), to the American beer producers?

Having been in the alcoholic beverage industry for over 3 decades I have a fairly good ideaof  how this saga will play out, unless drastic measures are implemented very soon.

The wine industry today is much like the U.S. auto industry of the 1970’s, which took the attitude that the public will buy what it tells them to purchase. We have all seen how successful that approach has been. Now Toyota is the world’s largest car company. Hopefully, the wine industry will come to its senses before it is too late.

The Average Casual Wine List – Part 1

October 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Winemetrics 2015 survey of 100 top casual dining chains has seen a drop in both by-the-glass and by-the-bottle listings. In our 2014 survey, the average casual dining list had 18 by-the-glass (BTG) and 23 by-the-bottle (BTB) selections. This year our preliminary survey indicates that those numbers have fallen to 17 BTG and 21 BTB.  Domestic wines dominate this segment, making up 70% of all listings. The smaller selection size also limits the diversity of these lists.  Below is the typical allocation of placements by variety.  Varieties not appearing on the table below would be found in the Other category, this would include Zinfandel and Syrah/Shiraz which, until recently, were among those varieties that had a presence on casual dining lists.  Part 2 of this blog will reveal the leading wines in casual chains as well as average pricing.

Average Casual List #BTG Listings #BTB Listings
Chardonnay 3 3
Cabernet Sauvignon 2 3
Pinot Noir 2 2
Merlot 2 2
Pinot Grigio/Gris 1 2
Sauvignon Blanc 1 1
Malbec 1 1
Red Blend 1 1
Riesling 1 1
Brut 1 1
Moscato Bianco 1 1
White Zinfandel 1 1
Other 2 3
17 21

Sterling: A Good Match for Treasury Wine Estates?

October 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

There is an industry rumor circulating that Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) is contemplating a purchase of the Sterling brand from Diageo.  Winemetrics, having done preliminary research on Sterling’s on-premise performance, is not certain this would be an appropriate fit for TWE.  Sterling used to be an on-premise powerhouse; five years ago Sterling was a leading restaurant brand, ranked 7th by-the-bottle (BTB) in Winemetrics 2009 On-Premise Wine Distribution Report. However, the following year Sterling had dropped to 16th BTB.  Since 2010, Sterling continued to lose distribution on-premise; in Winemetrics most recent 2014 survey, its BTB ranking fell to 50th place. Further analysis indicates that Sterling and Beringer, the flagship brand of TWE, have similar strengths, both with 29% of their on-premise distribution in Cabernet Sauvignon.

Perhaps a better choice for TWE would be one on Diageo’s Pinot Noir focused brands, such as Acacia or Chalone. On-premise distribution of Pinot Noir represents just 4% BTG and 5% BTB of TWE’s portfolio of brands. Meanwhile one third of TWE’s BTG and a quarter of its BTB distribution are devoted to White Zinfandel, a variety experiencing a slow decline on-premise.  Of course, on-premise distribution may not be a deciding factor in a wine brand purchase. However, the well-known brands, that have recently been sold at a premium,  (Meiomi is a perfect example) have had extensive restaurant distribution at the time of their purchase.

For more detailed analysis on the compatibility of Diageo’s brands with the Treasury Wine Estates portfolio. Please contact us at info@winemetrics.com.