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Published:  23 July, 2008

By David Williams

The UK is the most dynamic and fastest-growing premium wine market in the world, but the trade must not lose sight of its biggest marketing assets - a sense of place and complexity - if this situation is to continue. This was the message sent out by Western Wines managing director Mike Paul in a speech given to this year's Wine Evolution marketing conference, held last week in Paris. Paul told the international audience that the plus-5 sector is the fastest-growing part of the UK market, with nine million cases sold at the price point in 2004, two million more than in 2002. The price point is also dynamic, with sales spread across six to seven countries, rather than just France, Italy and Rioja', as was the case 10 years ago. Paul said that the supermarkets could take much of the credit for this. Their policy of making wine a destination category has seen them increase sales by 16 million cases, or by 40%, in the past five years, and they now have 62% of the plus-5 off-trade market. Paul is concerned, however, with making sure that the trade does not denigrate the mystique or strip out the complexity' of the wine offer as it continues to grow. Look at the food industry, look at soft drinks, look indeed at the spirits market,' he said. You can see a clear trend towards adding value by giving brands or categories a sense of place or provenance. Wine is thus a marketing person's dream, [but] we have got so much provenance that our main problem seems to be that we don't know what to do with it. Not only do we take it for granted, but I sometimes get the impression we see it as a disadvantage.' Referring to an analogy coined by wine writer Andrew Jefford, Paul said that the trade instead needed to see complexity as an advantage. If you are having problems getting people into chess, you don't simplify the rules of chess or give up and offer them draughts,' he said. You question your teaching methods and your marketing skills.' Pressed by the audience, Paul said that an example of good chess teaching' was Unwins' Phillips Newman stores, which make the complex accessible by merchandising by taste. Paul was one of several big-name speakers at this year's two-day conference, where much of the debate focused on the impact of retailer and supplier consolidation, and on the differences between producer-led and market-led marketing strategies. On the subject of consolidation, Constellation Wines Europe CEO, Christopher Carson, told the audience that his company's takeover of Robert Mondavi was one of those acquisitions that are made in heaven. There is absolutely no overlap with the existing business.' Carson also denied that his company was, or would be, responsible for the standardisation' of wine styles. If you're talking about standardisation of product, I don't think we fit into that category', he said. Being a multinational business, we are a business that would work internationally inside various markets, and provide those markets with the brands and types of wines that they want, rather than saying there is one wine that fits every market in the world. We're not Coca-Cola; we're not Procter & Gamble. I don't think that the wine business is at that point of globalisation in the true sense; I think that it's about building up multinational companies.'