Quality at all price points

Morrisons might not be the most vocal of supermarkets when it comes to wading into the minimum-pricing debate, announcing sweeping merchandising changes or shouting about accolades it has won, but it certainly has a clear vision of its position in the market.

“We want to be the wine specialist for everybody, whether your budget is £3 or over £10,” says wine development manager Arabella Woodrow MW.

“We have got lovely fresh food and you can find a bottle that goes with that, whatever your budget.”?It’s this relationship between food and wine which is central to Woodrow’s ambition for Morrisons’ drinks department. Walk into any store and you’ll be confronted with bays of wine matched to different recipes. At the fish, meat, cheese and deli counters, wines jostle for space alongside the fresh produce.

“If we care about the quality of our food then surely we should encourage customers to enjoy it even more with wines that enhance the experience,” says Woodrow.

For the first time, at the supermarket’s recent tasting it displayed wines it considered to be the ideal accompaniments to popular meal choices such as smoked fish, red meat, curry and fruit dessert.

For Woodrow, if a wine doesn’t have a natural food partner, it doesn’t justify its place in the range.

“Hilltop Czerszegi Füszeres from Hungary is a perfect match with onion bhajis – that’s its justification. We still want to keep some of the things that aren’t big sellers – it has just got to have a purpose in life,” she says.

Woodrow sees fortified wines as a prime example of a sub-category which ideally matches a certain food all year round – in this instance, blue cheese.

“Fortified wines have an important role to play, and are not just for Christmas. A Tawny port or an Italian Marsala wine goes brilliantly with Stilton, but a lot of people have cheese with an expensive red like Châteauneuf-du-Pape or a claret,” she says.

Display paysAlthough food and wine matching remains the chief method of merchandising wines in-store, how the wines are displayed is an ongoing project for Woodrow.

“We’re doing some research into different methods of display. Customers find it terribly confusing if they don’t know what they want and

there’s a great wall of wine. They like the type of information the wine label provides on-shelf,” she says.

Changes in Morrisons’ Scottish stores since the new licensing laws came into force in August have taught the supermarket some valuable lessons about the way its customers shop.

“In Scotland the licensing laws made us change how we display things. In some stores there isn’t room for display stacks for promotions, so customers have to have a look on the shelves. We’re finding they then buy a different selection of wines,” says Woodrow.

The decision not to play in the deep-discounting arena, like its competitors, is one area where Morrisons is unswerving. “We regard three-for-£10 and multibuys as unsuitable – we have nothing to gain,” Woodrow explains. “Customers like the idea they can get the choice of three different wines, but we made a conscious decision not to go down that route.”?Instead, doing half-price deals has proved “very successful,” she says,

because customers “see them for what they are and know how they work”.

“We support the customer with less deep-cut promotions and have not limited them just to the big brands and cheaper wines,” she says. “We did a very successful offer on classic wines for £6 such as Sancerre and Chablis – names people associate with good, quality wines. That gave customers the opportunity to trade up and see what they were missing.”??Learning curveFor Woodrow, another important distinction between Morrisons and its competitors is that it appoints buyers who are responsible for tasting the wines, collaborating with the winemaker on the blend and negotiating a final deal, rather than separating the roles.

“Some of our competitors have a selector and a negotiator. At Morrisons the buyer chooses who they want to buy from and they agree the commercial details with the supplier. It’s a learning curve. It’s important – you shouldn’t have a dividing line,” Woodrow says.

“I would feel very sorry if our buyers were totally divorced from the product because then they would never really understand it.”?So what has Woodrow and her team of four buyers been tasting and negotiating on in the past 12 months??Beefing up the Rhône, Loire and Burgundy offering has been high on the agenda, as demand for European wines soars, according to Woodrow. “We don’t want to see the classic European wines edged out, they do have a purpose,” she says.

Woodrow puts the resurgence in French and European wines down to “a bit of a backlash” against the New World’s higher alcohol levels.

“I want the wines to make a meal taste better rather than knock people on the head because it’s big, fruity and alcoholic,” she says.

A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes “to simplify the French range” and to have “much more visible ladders, so price points are more logical”, Woodrow says, because “a lot of people find the prices very confusing”.

Consumer confusion has also motivated the wine team to revamp its Italian range. “We’re a doing a lot of work with Italy. Our range is on course to change quite considerably. A lot of consumers shy away from Italy because they don’t understand it – it’s got more DOCs than France has cheeses, which makes some things confusing.”?Other countries due a facelift include Argentina – which Woodrow describes as “always the bridesmaid never the bride” – and Spain.

“Opportunities come by eliminating duplication. There’s a lot of work in progress, but I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag at this stage,” she says, promising all will become clear when the wines hit the shelves in September.

The autumn will also see “big developments” in Morrisons’ own-label range, with a “redesign job” in the pipeline, according to Woodrow.

She’s also keen to step up activity in lightweight packaging and ethical sourcing, but only if the wines’ quality can be guaranteed.

“We’re looking to have some more of our overseas wine packed over here, providing we can do it without any threat to quality.”