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Richard Siddle: comment September 9, Lighten up about low alcohol wines

Published:  15 September, 2011

"Hi darling, I'm just popping out to get a bottle of wine. Anything you fancy?" "Ooh yes, could you get one of those 5.9% strong wines. I've got a big meeting tomorrow and need a clear head."

"Hi darling, I'm just popping out to get a bottle of wine. Anything you fancy?" "Ooh yes, could you get one of those 5.9% strong wines. I've got a big meeting tomorrow and need a clear head."

Now that type of conversation may not currently be happening the length or breadth of the country, but it could well be in the coming years if the big supermarkets really get behind the lighter styles of wine they are currently so publicly coveting.

Marks & Spencer is the latest big high street name to nail its colours to lighter style, lower alcohol or even non-alcoholic wines and related products.

It is looking to roll out over the coming months a whole raft of products it says will slot in to a new 0-10% abv category. Pointedly Andrew Bird, M&S's trading director for grocery as well as beers, wines and spirits, says this drive to lower alcohol styles is being fuelled by consumer demand and is not just about ticking corporate responsibility boxes and getting the right side of the government.

Its focus groups and consumer panels have revealed a growing awareness amongst customers about alcohol levels, particularly in wine, coupled with a better understanding of how alcohol strengths can tot up the units they are drinking.

This is backed up by the increasing influence of consumer pressure groups like wineoption.org and the plethora of mumsnet-style blogs. Here the conversation around wine is not just about the intricacies of their favourite grape variety but more about concerns over how much they are drinking, how they can drink better for less and where to go to get lighter, more "life juggling-friendly" wines.

The trade would do well to listen. Producers and suppliers capable of producing a full spectrum of lighter, lower and normal strength wines are going to find themselves with a stronger hand to play.

Noticeably M&S is not planning on "ghettoising" its range of lighter and lower strength wine but merchandising them and giving them the same position on-shelf as their full strength counterparts.

So if the big boys are taking lower alcohol style wines this seriously it might pay to lighten up and follow suit.

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