Apr 06, 2021
Despite the major challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic – not least of which, several rounds of bans on the sale and distribution of alcohol – 2020 has given the wine industry some valuable lessons to chew over.
In our most recent podcast episode, host Jono Le Feuvre sat down with Vinimark Export and Marketing Director, Geoff Harvey to unpack some of the most interesting wine retail and buying trends that emerged from an all-round unprecedented year.
Here’s a quick round-up of five to take note of:
One of the main takeaways from the Vinimark Online Wine Revolution webinar last year, was the fact that wine producers who had not yet established an online sales system were in very real danger of being left behind.
Following the initial hard lockdown, where the sale of wine was forbidden altogether, online purchases were allowed with delivery set to be fulfilled once alcohol bans were lifted. While by no means an ideal situation, this was a saving grace for many wineries with well-established e-commerce systems. Furthermore, it prompted those whose online shop developments had been on the backburner for too long to rapidly spring into action.
This saw a marked increase in online sales and it’s safe to assume that many consumers who had formerly preferred to purchase their wine directly from farms or trusted retailers, are now placing orders online and, no doubt, enjoyed the convenience of home deliveries.
“The online retail drive has been exceptional and I think more consumers are now very comfortable with the online environment,” said Harvey.
It is worth noting that many producers – even those whose online sales had previously been running like a well-oiled machine – did experience some serious set-backs in terms of delayed deliveries. With courier companies stretched beyond capacity in the wake of the initial hard lockdown, there was an unfortunate disconnect between brands receiving and preparing orders and deliveries taking place.
This was probably one of the biggest lessons learned by many producers in 2020: to ensure that from the moment an online order comes through till the delivery is completed, brand integrity is upheld.
When the first alcohol sales ban was announced in the lead-up to South Africa’s first hard lockdown, consumers were given a few days to stock up and prepare.
Since nobody knew just how long we’d be locked up in our homes, the tendency was to go big – especially with alcohol purchases. This tendency grew stronger as many consumers were caught unawares by restrictions imposed during subsequent restrictions and found themselves with rapidly dwindling wine stocks.
“There was a huge trend to bigger format. From 5-litre bag-in-box to 3-litre cultivar,” said Harvey. “People really wanted to know that they had sufficient stock in their cellar or fridge to survive another lockdown.”
Big wholesalers performed exceptionally well, even experiencing something of a breakthrough year in terms of wine sales.
“Consumers wanted cases of wine, and these outlets are well-known for reasonable pricing and making easy to buy in bulk,” adds Harvey.
While consumers may have been buying in bulk/large format, Harvey pointed out that this doesn’t necessarily mean that they were compromising their standards.
“Interestingly, the customer wanted brands,” he explained. “They didn’t have to be cheap, but they had to be known.”
Once again, with uncertainty around just how long the ban on sales would last, consumers wanted to make sure that the wines they stocked their cellars with were at least good quality and would remain enjoyable to drink for an extended period.
“The sad thing is that experimentation went straight out the window,” said Harvey. “People weren’t prepared to put their money down on products that they didn’t know or weren’t comfortable buying.”
Stronger collaboration between wine brands and restaurants
The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest-hit by both alcohol sales bans and lockdown curfews.
Not being able to enjoy a glass of wine with a meal and/or having to rush home before 9pm (over certain periods), has led to many consumers preferring to entertain at home rather than head out to restaurants.
If nothing else, the past few months have certainly highlighted just how mutually beneficial on-trade sales are to restaurants and wine brands.
On the one hand, restaurant wine lists have, historically, been instrumental in helping producers build their brands; and on the other, having a decent wine list is key to attracting customers to restaurants.
“I really hope we’ll see a stronger partnership between wine brands and restaurants going forward,” said Harvey.
Finally, one of the most interesting trends to emerge post-2020 is a greater willingness among consumers to experiment with no/low-alcohol wines.
While this may initially have been sparked by a lack of available options, it has quickly evolved into a standalone category.
“No-and-low has exploded both in terms of retail listings and sales,” said Harvey. “I think the trend is fully established now and certainly will continue.”
While alcohol sales bans may have been the catalyst in bringing these wines into the mainstream, th
e continued popularity of wine is underpinned by a growing tendency among consumers to make healthier food and beverage choices.
While it has been interesting to see these trends emerge out of the chaos and confusion of a global pandemic, it’s going to be even more interesting to see how wine brands harness these learnings and adapt to an increasingly uncertain future.
Listen to the interview with Geoff Harvey bellow.
For more information on COVID-19, visit www.sacoronavirus.co.za