With More People Entertaining At Home, Retail Guidance Is As Vital As Ever
By Jeff Siegel
The news has not been good for the restaurant business since the end of the Recession—lower traffic counts, depressed wine sales, and consumer irritation with higher alcohol prices. Many consumers who used to eat out are staying home.
“There are two reasons consumers opt to eat and drink at home over going out—convenience and cost,” says Brandy D. Rand, President U.S. for IWSR, a global data and analysis firm for the beverage alcohol market. “The rise of quality prepared foods at grocery stores is replacing casual and fast-casual dining because of how convenient it is,” says Rand. “The blurring of on/off-premise is a really pushing how people view food and drink decisions.”
Hence the opportunity for wine, beer, and spirits retailer to become a virtual sommelier for what some analysts are calling the Netflix, takeout, and couch crowd. They’re often younger than the Baby Boomers who know what they want for their Saturday night dinner and have been buying the same wine for years. These Gen Xers and Millennials—be it for hanging out, cooking or hosting a BYO dinner party—want to try something different.
And they need help to do so, says Suzy Bergman, Wine Buyer for Wyatt’s Wet Goods, a full-service retailer in suburban Denver: “They seem to be more adventurous in their cooking, and they want to be more adventurous with their wine.”
Keep these points in mind when selling to these customers:
They want wine because it’s part of the experience, not because they want to drink wine with dinner. In this, says Chris Keel, who owns Put a Cork in It in an upscale neighborhood near Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, they’re looking for a specific wine to go with a specific dish, so that pairing matters in a way it may not for older customers who just want a bottle of wine to drink with dinner—regardless of what dinner is. “They’re not looking for your typical California Cab.” says Keel.
Price is important, and probably even more so than for older wine drinkers who buy the same couple of Russian River Pinot Noirs every time they come in the store. One reason the stay-at-homers aren’t buying wine in a restaurant is that they don’t want to pay $12 for a glass of wine that costs $20 a bottle at retail, says Rand, noting the lack of transparency in on-premise markups. “So talking about value is a smart way to sell more premium products,” she says.
Know your alternatives. One reason younger wine drinkers are more adventurous is that they haven’t been taught to drink specific varietals from specific regions in the way older consumers have, say retailers. So Keel says they’re more open to trying barbera or grenache instead of pinot noir. And there is always the opportunity to pitch them on riesling with Thai and Asian food.
Merchandising matters. “The vast amount of choices available in a retail environment can be overwhelming,” says Rand, “so offer cues for food-pairing right on the shelf. Even better, merchandise by drinking occasion: have a small endcap for pizza-friendly wines, or best beers for BBQ. For cocktails, make it easy for people to make a classic cocktail like a margarita by offering the recipe on a tear pad and then cross-merchandise all the ingredients together: limes, agave nectar, tequila. Too often, the mixer section is far away from the spirits and the quality and selection is poor.”
And so does customer service. Rand says she can’t emphasize this enough—“Have friendly, knowledgeable staff on the floor to talk to people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed a recommendation and couldn’t find staff in a retail store. Or worse, the person didn’t know enough to help. Most consumers walk in to a retail store and have no idea what they are buying. They are literally looking for cues and recommendations on what to buy to fit their occasion and taste.”