Could bigger formats and gifting be the saviour for wine brands?

You sure? That’s a lot of gifts to go around.

Calm down. One step at a time. But, whisper it gently, things are a-changing down the local supermarket wine aisle. The wall of wine is slowly being broken down into more distinct areas, where we are no longer just confronted with row after row of exactly the same sized bottle of wine.

You must be going to different stores than me.

Well, it’s not everywhere, but if you know where to look then there are some very interesting changes taking place. Each of the major multiples all have their trial stores where they bring us freshly made coffee and ironed newspapers long before the rest of us get to see them. It is in those stores where you are seeing new additions to the wine aisle. Particularly different formats, bigger sizes, magnums, and where limited edition gift packs are being used to make shopping the wine aisle a bit more of an experience.

What’s bringing all this about?

It won’t be the first trend that starts in the on-trade and ends up in our supermarkets. Flick through any on-trade report worth its salt in the last couple of years and sales of bigger sized bottles, particularly magnums, are giving Prosecco a run for its money. Which is good news all round, as bigger formats should, in theory, mean better margins. The recession may have made us all far more cost conscious consumers, but as the boom in sparkling wine has shown us, we are also far keener to find ways to give ourselves a treat, and share new experiences. Splashing out on a bigger sized bottle of wine ticks both those boxes.

What about gifting?

Well, unless you are constantly celebrating something we are not buying these bigger sizes just to drink at home. Instead they are being seen as the ideal alternative, but ultimately super safe gifting option. Ideal for a memorable wedding present, or to add a bit of theatre and drama to a dinner party.

What does this mean for brands and the wider wine trade?

It could potentially shake up what’s being sourced elsewhere down the wine aisle. For the last 10 years it has been the rise of the super varietal that has driven supermarket sales. Shoppers may not know their Nuits-St-Georges from their Walker Bays, but they know which grape variety they like. It has created a Premier League of grape varieties that now rule the world.

So where does gifting and new formats fit in to that?

If they continue to grow as they are now, it does tip the scales a little back towards all those producers and suppliers that have invested so much in developing wine brands. Proper brands with real values that don’t just introduce a Pinot Gris to keep the chattering classes happy. They now have the opportunity to develop well designed, positioned and beautifully executed larger formats and gifting options for their brands. New packs and bottles that crucially move them up the pricing ladder.

Sounds interesting, anything else?

For the brands that get it right it potentially moves at least part of their business out of the wine aisle completely. They could now become very relevant to those more premium shoppers looking for new ideas for their occasion-driven shopping missions. The opportunity to engage with higher spending consumers in a completely different way. It also gives them the chance to be sold in different retail environments, like at airports or in premium department stores. It would mean rather than look for a mention in one of the weekly national wine columns - rare for a mainstream wine brand in any case - it will become far more exciting to be featured as part of the gifting ideas sections that pad out women’s lifestyle and luxury magazines.

Who’s doing this well?

Well of course nothing is really new. If a wine brand really knows how to succeed in the gifting arena then they only have to look over to the Champagne brands as they have relied on gifting boxes and larger formats for decades.

What other ‘gifts’ have you got for us?

Well, for the more premium supermarket wine brands it offers the chance for salvation. The opportunity to escape the sword of Damocles that stands above any brand on a multiple fixture. Super size yourself, get out of the rat race, trade up, find a pretty box to put yourself in and the world can look a very different place. 

* This is part of the latest Grapevine news and views review produced for the London Wine Fair. You can sign up and subscribe to receive Grapevine here.