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Justin Howard-Sneyd, Global wine buyer, Direct Wines

Published:  07 July, 2011

What are we all doing buzzing around like blue-arsed flies, madly trying to do more and more with less and less? Are we going down the wrong road?

Profit in the wine supply chain in the UK is evaporating with the pressures of rising costs and taxes and falling volumes, and the retail prices which are held in check by the squeeze on consumer spending, and by our failure to explain to our customers why it is worth spending more to buy a better wine.

Does our definition of 'better' even bear any resemblance to our customer's definition of better? It seems that many of them either can't tell the difference, or prefer the taste of cheaper wine.

Is this their problem? No, it's not, it's our problem!

In many other markets, there is a much bigger stretch in customers' willingness to spend more for a 'higher quality' wine. In the USA, in Canada, in Scandinavia and in much of Asia, premium wine is booming.

How can we build back confidence in higher priced wines, and prevent the default position of most of the UK population just to buy what is on promotion?

The answer may lie in being able to predict more accurately the taste preference of each individual customer. Just as a good wine shop manager will build a relationship with each customer, and learn their preferences, we need to learn to do this on a bigger scale not just by analysing sales patterns, and understanding flavour profiles.

Let's stop forcing everyone to buy the wines we think they should like, and help them to find the wines they actually will like.

If we can show our customers a quality ladder that leads them to their own personal wine nirvana, then they are much more likely to climb, and keep climbing. But wine nirvana is different for different people. For some it is mature Nebbiolo, for many it is expensive claret, but for others is a gluggable fruity red, or a medium-sweet white. For some of these styles, the ladder stops on the bottom rung. We need to focus on extending their ladder upwards.

At the moment the road that most of the UK retail trade are going down only leads to a destruction of value in the wine category.

Whoever can help their customers find wines that they will love at every price point will be rewarded with much greater loyalty, and bigger profits. And they won't have to rely on promotions!

In the words of Robert Plant: "Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run

There's still time to change the road you're on

Ooh, it makes me wonder"

A Stairway to Heaven.

Justin Howard-Sneyd is global wine buyer for Laithwaites Wine