Holter on the loose

26 January, 2007

Innovative independent wine sector deserves greater attention

There has been a lot of discussion about the contribution being made by independent wine merchants: everyone agrees they add to the gaiety of the nation but nobody was sure exactly how much, er, gayer they made us.

Now we can measure it: according to our study, there are 512 retailers turning over a little less than £250 million. Those are just the committed wine specialists - add in the remainder of the independent off-trade and you'll arrive at a figure that's far higher.

But it's not just about numbers - although it's certainly encouraging to see so many stores trading with such vigour. Independents contribute to the wine market in ways that benefit the entire sector. Their 5 per cent share of off-trade wine sales is dwarfed by the numbers generated by Tesco or Sainsbury's, but I suspect all the big chains recognise that the presence of specialist rivals adds extra zest (and value) to the market.

Over the coming year, we intend to get to grips with the specialist independent wine sector and find out exactly what makes it tick. It's a diverse and occasionally eccentric marketplace, which can be traditional and innovative at the same time. It deserves more attention.

Consumers want convenience

The Competition Commission sounds like it's preparing the ground for a pretty bland report into the dominance of the supermarkets. Did anyone predict anything different?

Suppliers are very good at muttering about the way they are treated by the multiple grocers and about the costs that they alone are forced to bear. But they are not so good at coming forward with genuine evidence of abuse.

We may applaud the ruthless professionalism of our supermarkets, but smaller retailers - and, it seems, the nation at large - are worried about the effect this is having on communities and high streets.

Who do we blame for this

The supermarkets, for having a successful business plan that has created vast economies of scale? Local authorities, for granting planning permission to superstores? The government, for not dreaming up some sort of legislation to curb the market share of the big four?

No. The culprit is the consumer. The plain truth is that people enjoy the convenience and prices they get from supermarkets, and no amount of officialdom is ever going to change this. It makes life tough for specialist chains and independents, but the strongest - and that means those with genuine differentiation - will survive.

Somerfield's loss

Somerfield is a chain that has long punched above its weight in the wine aisles with Angela Mount at the helm. Her presence certainly forced some well-heeled critics to take notice of a retailer I suspect they would otherwise have stuck their noses up at. Angela will be sorely missed and Somerfield needs to replace her.

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