Entries in drink (14)


Germany’s place in the emerging lower-alcohol category

Last month, Wines of Germany held the first ever UK Riesling Summit with over 100 members of the drinks trade descending on the RIBA in Central London. The idea behind the Riesling Summit was to encourage excitement and discussion about the most respected and versatile white grape in the world and get the trade to enjoy spending a day with Riesling.

The day started with a panel debate looking at the opportunity for German Wine as consumer tastes continue to move towards lower alcohol and lighter style wines. The panel was made up of Gerd Stepp (Winemaker and Industry Consultant), Helena Conibear (Director of Alcohol in Moderation), Maria Troein (Wine Intelligence), and Wines of Germany's (UK) Director Nicky Forrest.

Due to changing lifestyles and increasing government regulation, the idea behind the debate was to explore opportunities which might exist for Germany. As consumers increase their search for healthier options or at least, less heavy styles of wines, the panel also discussed if Germany's naturally low in alcohol options are currently being overlooked and possibly missing out. Should Germany seek to capitalise on the trend towards lighter wine styles and in doing so, would the UK trade support us?

Of course there are two totally different sectors here - under 5.5% with its 'technically / made 'wines' and advantageous tax breaks. This is the fastest growing sector of the UK market driven largely by price and margin. And then there is the second sector between 6-11% which has not benefited from tax breaks and shows slower growth within the UK market. Within the 6-11% sector, wines are naturally produced; therefore, wines within this sector taste like wine because they are wine. Conibear stressed the importance of the government's responsible drinking drive and the trade's promise to remove 1 billion units from consumption by 2015 - something that will be effected across beer, wine and spirits.

Conibear also considered the development of the low alcohol category as "very exciting" and considered it "Germany's best chance in years" as consumers are after lighter styles. This is something, of course, that Germany does very well because as everyone knows you can make an amazing fruity style wine with around 10%-11% alcohol that knocks the socks of most other wines at that level. In fact many years ago the Deutsche Weininstitut had a strapline: 'German wines - light and elegant naturally'. Is it time to bring it back?

So then the next question is about taste. As Stepp puts it, "winemaking is always in conflict. There's what's technically possible and then there's what's good for the wine." Far better from his point of view, was the ability of certain countries and regions to produce lighter, less alcoholic wines naturally, which as a result would retain the all important sense of balance between acidity, sugar and alcohol and lead to a better tasting, higher quality wine. "Naturally low tastes better," he concluded.

Rupert Millar from Drinks Business recently wrote, "It is difficult to argue against the idea that Germany should seek to capitalise on the trend towards lighter wine styles by pushing the message that it naturally produces less heavy and alcoholic wines."

Posted by Nicky Forrest


Do low alcoholic drink options compare?

New Year’s resolutions, (especially as an attempt to cut down our drinking consumption) are a bit like babies. They are fun to make but extremely difficult to maintain. As consumers look to embrace a healthier lifestyle this year and our MPs give guidance on alcohol intake, the channel growth for premium quality, lighter style alcoholic drink options is set to increase in 2012.

As most experts within the drinks industry would agree, implementing change to a traditional-minded sector is never without risk, especially within the off-trade. But as an active supporter of Drinkaware, it’s good to see that Sainsbury’s has taken on the challenge with a move to increase Responsible Drinking this year. 

As a collaborative initiative, Sainsbury’s is working with Drinkaware, Diageo and Heineken with the aim of giving consumers a better understanding of alcohol units and calories across a wide range of wines, beers and spirits which will also include sampling, enabling customers to try lighter wines and alternative serve sizes of spirits and beer. Aiming to double sales of lighter alcoholic wine by 2020, Sainsbury’s responsible drinking campaign will highlight the variety of lighter style wines that are available (abv of 10.5 or less).

But do these low alcoholic options compare? Honestly, yes. It’s a great alternative to its big brother and bound to appeal to an increasingly health conscious and savvy consumer.

Posted by Shelly Murphy


Spotlight on Grape Choice

Here at Phipps, it’s pretty obvious to state that we’re all interested in food and drink. However, this extends far beyond the four walls of our pink and white office, with many resident bloggers in our midst. Today we kick-off by chatting to Junior Account Executive and blogger Jen Gevaux (over a glass of wine, of course).

Hi Jen, tell us about yourself and the blog in 40 words

Fresh out of university, I joined Phipps as an intern in June, and then joined the team permanently in October. I’ve been an ardent blogger since February 2010 and posts can range from product reviews and food and wine matches, to travel anecdotes and informative pieces.

So why blog?

Grape Choice is all about making wine (and other drinks) accessible to those with a limited knowledge of wine. At university, I was quite new to wine, but when I came across a wine I liked or an offer that couldn’t be missed I wanted to let others know about it. Since then, my knowledge has extended (thanks to working in the industry and completing the Wine and Spirits Education Trust intermediate course) and I’ve started to be more adventurous with my choices.

Do you think blogs like yours can help the wine industry to become more accessible to consumers?

The wine aisle can be rather daunting for many people, especially when it comes to choosing a wine for someone else or when trying to impress at a dinner party. Grape Choice is my way of making it a little easier. I’m not an expert (yet) and I believe that taste is subjective – just as some people like olives and anchovies whilst others can’t stand them, the exact same can be said for different wines.

To what extent is your blog influenced by current food and drink trends?

Quite often trends dictate what we should and should not choose to eat or drink (How many of you have tried your hand at baking cupcakes over the last few years?). So many such trends can be really alienating, so although I like to keep up-to-date with what’s hot right now, Grape Choice tends to put aside those trends – my philosophy is if you like it, drink it.

By Sara Evans


Christmas is coming – make or break for Grand Marques?

Alcoholic drinks are always big business for the major retailers, but there’s no more important time in the retail calendar than Christmas, when we all treat ourselves to a bit of what we fancy (in my case, Bailey’s, vintage Champagne and mulled wine – not all together I hasten to add). With competition amongst the supermarkets fiercer than ever with their well-publicised price matches, we’re set to see another bumper year of drinks offers this Christmas. This is obviously great for consumers, but what is this doing to big brands’ equity?

Champagne brands have suffered a lot in recent years as half-price promotions have become commonplace in the wine aisle at Christmas. The effects on the sparkling wine category are now becoming evident, with supermarkets’ ranges now full of wines in the £8-15 bracket, including a plethora of cavas, proseccos, and New World fizz including the latest craze, Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc (commercial genius, that one!). Champagne still has its spot on the shelf but now its cut-price supermarket exclusives on offer at £15-£20 that take pride of place on gondola ends rather than top brands at full price. In this environment, how can luxury brands such as Veuve Clicquot, Moët and Bollinger persuade customers to part with £30+prices?

With a double dip recession on the cards for next year and voucher culture gripping the nation, the Grandes Marques are going to need pull out all the stops with engaging, creative and innovative marketing campaigns to maintain their loyal fan base. If they don’t 2012 may be a somewhat challenging year for the Champagne region. 

Posted by Lucy Richardson


Oddbins on the brink of regaining its sparkle?

Working closely with the wine trade, it’s always sad for us to hear when an independent wine shop or national chain is struggling to stay afloat in these tough economic times. Oddbins has certainly been in trouble recently. Still, after going into administration earlier this year, 37 stores have been kept open and recently re-launched. Our ears perked up when we heard that more than 3,500 of their customers were then asked to price wines in a blind tasting which led to three wines going on sale last Friday at their customer recommended retail prices.

A good PR stunt or a genuine attempt to revive their business?

We think their efforts to overhaul the business are certainly valiant and have already generated a large amount of media coverage. However, in this ever-changing world we live in, will this be enough? With a lacklustre website and a relatively small Twitter and Facebook following, we think Oddbins should perhaps take a leaf out of their competitor, Majestic’s, book. Yes, it is now coming from a smaller base, but social media is a great leveller for brands provided they create compelling content for users to engage with. In lowering their minimum purchase from 12 bottles to six, Majestic have always been ahead of the game in terms of innovation, and now with their integrated digital campaign (each of the stores have their own Twitter feed and blog page), they are leading the way within their sector. With some promising ideas, such as giving greater freedom to store managers and categorising the wines by style rather than country, we think that Oddbins have the potential to rise from the ashes. For the time being, however, we’re holding our breath as to whether they will succeed in becoming a relevant brand once more.


Posted by Sara Evans


Pick up a Pinot (from Germany of course)

For many Brits, Germany is not their country of choice when wine shopping. Unless you understand basic German, the label on a bottle of Riesling - the country’s premier grape varietal - can leave you puzzled and reaching for the nearest Aussie Chardonnay. With this in mind, you’d think we’d be mad to even think about pitting German Pinot Noir (yes, red wine from Germany does exist!) against its international, highly-regarded competition.

But such was our faith in the quality of German Pinot Noir, we recruited a world-class panel of judges (and friends of Phipps to boot) including top wine writers Jancis Robinson MW (Financial Times and Purple Pages.com), Tim Atkin MW (BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen wine expert) and Matthew Jukes (Daily Mail) to taste 20 German Pinot versus 20 top Pinot Noirs from around the world, to judge for themselves. The tasting itself required the organisational skills of a military sergeant but after hours of tasting, we were thrilled to find that no less than seven German wines had made the top 10!  Our audacity and insight had paid off! Even more astonishing when the final results came in a German Pinot Noir actually came third overall, beating all three Burgundy wines in the tasting! But don’t just take our word for it. Check out Jancis Robinson’s video, Tim Atkin’s fantastic article and Gabby Savage’s write up on Drinks Business, or if you’re still not convinced come back next week to watch the event’s video and see it with your own eyes. 

Posted by Lucy Richardson


Spirits…and the paradox of choice

Counterintuitive as it may sound to anyone living in a Western consumerist society, is it possible that freedom of choice has made us not freer but more paralysed, not happier but more dissatisfied? 

That idea was already vaunted by psychologist Barry Schwartz five years ago but as of this month London’s The Social will be putting it to the test. Instead of a back wall full of bottles the selection of spirits on offer is limited to the best of the best. So that's one vodka, one gin, one rum, one whisky, one tequila. “I’m not saying it’s wrong to have 20 gins,” remarked Eric Yu, managing director of The Breakfast Group which owns The Social in the October’s issue of the Drinks Business. “We’re just trying to get a balance. There’s a whole plethora of choice that’s way beyond public understanding.” So what’s out view on this - best of the best or plenty of bottles behind the bar? Not sure actually, it’s a difficult choice to make…


Posted by Toby Schuster


Why going niche could go mainstream

We don’t need to tell you there’s an economic crisis going on – we all know it. But with the biggest and best London Cocktail Week just gone and higher than expected results from major distillers it seems the spirits market is well and truly bucking the trend. Admittedly, alcohol is what the Financial Times calls a “defensive sector that carries on selling through the downturn”, though it’s clear the sector is not immune to thrifty consumers and is facing tough times. A closer look at the sector reveals that growth is actually driven by a small number of categories within the spirits sector, namely higher quality and premium brands. This seems utterly counterintuitive at a time when logic dictates that we should be tightening our belts and trading down, not trading up to more expensive drinks.

An explanation comes in form of James Harkin’s book Niche: Why the market no longer favours the mainstream. He defines a niche product as one most people don’t want but one that is ideally suited for the people who do (subsequently, James argues that any loss of volume should be offset by a widening of value sales and profit margins from the market “sweet spot” – consumers who are willing to pay more for the privilege). The key is to avoid being “stuck in the middle” and one way we believe for drinks brands to avoid the dreaded middle is to position themselves as affordable luxury, a very niche positioning since consumers may not be able to splash out on a 5-star holiday, but a high-quality spirit is still attainable. The trouble is if everyone’s doing it the niche may become the mainstream. 


Posted by Lucy Richardson


A different perspective on Britain's drinking culture

After all the sensationalist media reports about Britain’s binge drinking culture, here’s a refreshing perspective on the problem. Social anthropologist Kate Fox claims that it’s not the alcohol itself that’s the issue; it’s the fact that it’s socially acceptable in the UK for alcohol to be used as an excuse for antisocial behaviour. How many times have you heard people (and I’m not claiming that I haven’t been guilty myself) boasting of their drinking escapades? It’s not an exclusively British problem but seems to be the preserve of those nations with what Kate calls ‘ambivalent’ drinking cultures.

Her views seem to correlate with cultures that are famed for repressing their emotions to some extent. A Phipps team member who lived in Japan for a year often relates a tale of a staff party which ended with one of her co-workers setting fire to his own pubic hair! However, alcohol induced fights seem rare in Japan, as they do in Spain, a country where I have spent a lot of time. That’s not to say that the Spanish don’t drink a lot – I’ve been to fiestas in small towns where the drinking started at 11am and continued until 5am the next day. But perhaps drunken aggressive behaviour is less of an issue because the Spanish express themselves on a daily basis – shouting, arguing and hugging their friends – and don’t use alcohol as an emotional crutch in the way that the British do. Maybe we need to look at the social ills that lead to young people in Britain feeling the need to drown their sorrows in alcohol rather than using alcohol as a scapegoat?


Posted by Anna Harris-Noble


The Great British Beer Blog

British ale has undergone somewhat of a renaissance of late. Bottled ales are cropping up on supermarket shelves and, assisted by a generous duty relief for producers of less than 3,000 barrels a year, microbreweries are cropping up all over the place. The big trend for provenance and authenticity are being cited as main reasons and industry experts are predicting a further 50 new small breweries opening around the country this year. 

Conversely, the UK beer market has shrank by 7% last year and we're losing 25 pubs a week. On the other hand, Phipps client Sainsbury’s, has seen a 7% year-on-year growth in bottled beers this year. Capitalising on a renewed consumer appetite for real ales, Sainsbury’s earlier this year also launched a nationwide competition to find Britain’s best independently produced beer. ‘The Great British Beer Hunt’ drew entries from all over the country by brewers experimenting with new styles and reviving old ones all eager to get their beers out to a wider market.

Phipps is of course well known for its work in the wine industry but on working with Sainsbury’s on the Great British Beer Hunt we’ve discovered that beer is every bit as complex as wine and the wide array of media that have covered the event seem to agree.


Posted by Becky Erwood