“Wine as a category is often very confusing,” says Ben Cahill, Co-op’s buyer for sparkling and France. 

For Cahill, who has worked as a Co-op buyer since 2008, making wine accessible to a wider audience is one of the buying team’s main focus areas. 

“We’re focused on making it as easy as possible for people to shop,” he explains at the Co-op’s Christmas tasting earlier this week. 

“Because we’re largely convenience based, most people don’t have an awful lot of time to browse the aisles, read the back labels and all the rest of it. So we’re trying to provide clear messaging on how much something is, where it’s from, what kind of style it is, and maybe what kind of food it would go with. Ultimately, we’re just trying to make wine less intimidating.”

When it comes to simplifying the shopping process, Cahill says the Co-op has been improving its shelf labelling to offer consumers “concise tasting notes” and wine recommendations. 

Despite recent reports that off-trade wine sales have dropped across almost every sub-category besides English Sparkling, Cahill says that the retailer is “happy” with sales across the board. However, he points to sparkling as a category that has seen notable success as of late.

English sparkling aside, Cahill says there has been a “mini-resurgence” in the popularity of Cava.

“Cava has perhaps been overlooked for the last decade, even though it is inherently a very well made wine. In some ways it is perhaps more interesting than Prosecco, and it’s usually the same sort of price point or maybe below.”

He attributes Cava’s re-emergence to both “savvy marketing” from the big Cava players, as well as its affordability appeal.

“Cava is a far more affordable option than Champagne for most,” he says, while suggesting that the cost-of-living crisis has encouraged consumers to experiment with their choices as they look for more wallet-friendly wines.

Regardless of financial pressures, Cahill still reckons that consumers have a penchant for premium following the pandemic: “During the pandemic, we really saw an uplift in what would be described as more premium wines as people treated themselves at home.” 

“As a retailer, we set out to hang on to those consumers even after lockdown. And sales have been relatively buoyant in that area because I think people have caught on to the fact that when you go to a restaurant, your minimum spend on wine will be around £25. But, you’d end up spending half that in the off-trade for something just as high quality – you’re going to get more bang for your buck.” 

However, he says the most important part of wine retailing is encouraging customers to come back for more, regardless of the style or price point: “It is the second bottle that we always want to sell – whether it was the price or a promotion that encouraged the first sale, if they like it, they will remember it and hopefully come back to buy another bottle. That’s when you know you’ve got something good.”