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UK still ‘litmus test’ as global benchmark for wine brands

Published:  28 January, 2019

The UK market continues to be the shop window for the world of wine, with the on-trade driving premium sales. 

These were key findings delivered as part of the recently released Wine Business Solutions’ Wine On-Premise UK 2019 survey, which covers the breath of the varied dining scene in the UK, while looking at the distributors that serve this market.

This, the 10th annual WBS on-trade survey, was the most comprehensive to date, revealing that 19% of wine is consumed through on-trade premises in the UK, at around 29 million litre cases – with 19% also being the on-trade figure for both the US and Australia, suggesting the extent to which restaurant culture has become globally engrained.

While acknowledging that 2018 had been “a tough year in the UK”, with a record number of restaurant closures, the survey cited multiple sources that suggest premium wine sales are holding up, although UK restaurants have reduced their listings of “ultra-high pieced wines”, in line with other similarly sophisticated dining markets.

However, looking at the all-important distributors servicing this market, and the range of wines that these companies collectively offer, the survey revealed that the choice of wines had in fact grown.

“In our 2019 survey alone there were 5147 brands listed. This was 4% up on last year reflecting ever growing sophistication in this ‘Great British Wine Market’, the true ‘litmus’ for wine brands globally.”

Citing data compiled by Harpers Wine & Spirit, which identifies over 500 companies that manage wine distribution for UK on-trade businesses either nationally or regionally, the WBS survey captured data from half of those companies, providing an in-depth insight into who the best distributors are, the reach of those top distributors in the market, how much restaurants charge for wine by the bottle and by the glass and how much on-trade businesses can expect to make from on-premise sales.

The findings from the survey suggested that “for those in the know, there is still money to be made in [the UK] market”, while also positing that the “UK consumers and the restaurants that serve them are, however, becoming ever more value driven”.

Of those top on-trade distributors in the UK, the leading 30 are responsible for 71% of all listings, and for a successful business partnership, suggested the findings, on-trade operators need to carefully weigh the value and modus operandi of a given supplier to ensure that it enhances the account’s on-trade sales.

The take-away advice to on-trade operators is that to benefit from the trends identified, including capturing and driving more premium sales, a given drinks portfolio must be “strong enough to be able to command attention”.

Distributors, in turn, and if good, should be helping restaurants to encourage customers to trial new wines, and to build greater volume sales through their by-the-glass offer – a mechanism that can again lift more premium sales.

In keeping with other current trends, distributors should also be encouraging and enabling outlets to sell alternative formats, such as half bottles and magnums, along with multiple pouring sizes to “optimise list coverage”.

Brand recognition and visibility were also cited as important, as was the ability of distributors to adapt supply to a fast moving market, to ensure the wine offer keeps up with evolving consumer trends.