Seek efficiencies – but not at any cost

28 May, 2010

They say never forget where you come from, and I wonder if consumers feel they same about what they drink.

In the grand scheme of things, how much would the average Joe care if he knew his bottle of Belgian beer had travelled less in its lifetime than a family going from Bognor to Billericay? Provenance, we’re told, is an increasingly emotive concept in food shopping, but when it comes to mainstream drinks brands, consumers don’t seem to ask many questions about where their drop hails from. But should they start to, it’s a question the wine trade might need to find an answer for, too.

Finding efficiencies in the supply chain and exploring ways to mitigate crippling exchange rates are two key considerations across the trade. And, although it’s nothing new, one option moving up the agenda is UK bottling. Increasingly, brands that would never have gone down that route have started either shifting significant volume that way or are taking a considered look at it. The extra capacity at Constellation’s Bristol premises, coupled with the company’s need to monetise its assets, could help shore up some attractive bottling contracts with suppliers wanting to take the plunge.

Aside from the obvious benefits of not having to convert the cost of UK bottling into a foreign currency, suppliers able to hold stock closer to market will be better placed to respond to emerging trends than rivals whose shipments take 20 days. And reducing the impact of lugging heavy bottles halfway around the globe certainly ticks the environmental box. On the flipside, some countries would argue it is denying them vital income.

But as a trade, if we’re as consumer-focused as we claim, isn’t it important to consider what it might mean to them??With wine more than anything else, consumers buy into the romantic ideal, the aspirational lifestyle and the sense of place. If that wasn’t the case, people would only buy on bang for buck.

Perhaps consumers wouldn’t feel those notions are compromised by bulk shipping – after all, it’s been going on for long enough without any backlash. If it becomes more prevalent, could this change? More than anything, the key consideration in winemaking is an entirely justified obsession with how the liquid in the bottle tastes. Transporting a live product has many more variables and potential problems than most other goods on supermarket shelves. Maintaining quality is key. It’s encouraging to hear suppliers becoming more rigorous, asking whether flexitank technology is as good as it can be at stopping air movement or could be improved. One is now insisting that a trained winemaker in the UK checks that shipments arrive tasting just as the winery 10,000 miles away intended. Finding new ways to cut the cloth is wise, just don’t trim quality.

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