So, farewell then Oddbins – at least from the high street. In all honesty, the news – reported by DR’s sister title Harpers Wine & Spirit – that European Food Brokers has finally called time on its bricks-and-mortar wine shop chain came as little shock.
Indeed, it’s probably more of a surprise that 15 or so stores had managed to soldier on for so long, outlasting numerous recessions, the global financial crisis of 2007/8 and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Its passing is likely to go unnoticed by most consumers, even those who drink wine. There will be no national outpouring of grief, as there was over the demise of Wilko, because it’s 30 years or more since the public at large had any notable emotional attachment to Oddbins.
Back then it had getting on for 300 branches, with many cities supporting more than one.
They were places that made wine fun and exciting, both for staff and customers.
Founded by Ahmed Pochee exactly 60 years ago, Oddbins went on to win wine merchant of the year 12 times running at the International Wine Challenge in the 1980s and 1990s, when owned by Seagram, largely thanks to adventurous buying by Steve Daniel and the eye-catching advertising of Ralph Steadman.
The wheels loosened gradually as the company passed through various phases of ownership and a series of administrations.
Oddbins was always an uneasy fit alongside the French chain Nicolas in the portfolio of Castel Freres in the early 2000s. Later stewardship by Simon Baile, son of 1970s co-owner Nick Baile, seemed more driven by sentiment than commercial dexterity.
European Food Brokers bought it out of administration in 2011. Interesting range development by Ana Sapungiu MW seemed briefly to herald a rebirth and it won again at the IWC in 2014.
But it went into administration again in early 2019, with 28 stores eventually being bought by Wine Retail – the paper chain of which leads back to European Food Brokers, whose name still appears on the Oddbins ecommerce site, which lives on.
More branches have closed since and the ones that made it to the end were limited to London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool.
The passing of Oddbins’ bricks-and-mortar estate is the final end game in the disappearance of the multiple off-licence sector, which began in the early years of this century with the demise of other household names such as Victoria Wine, Thresher and Unwins.
Ecommerce, the might of the supermarkets, the general decline of the high street and the emergence of a strong independent wine shop sector – many of them run by people whose passion for wine was inspired when working for Oddbins – have all played their part in Oddbins’ downfall.
The lack of a high-profile and coherent marketing message and a reluctance to embrace modern trends such as on/off hybridism also contributed.
Its retreat from the high street presents opportunities for others to do what it did but better, which the likes of Jeroboams, Amathus and Vagabond have all been doing at increasing numbers of sites in recent years. One just-closed Oddbins site has already been snapped up by the Good Wine Shop chain.
Majestic has also entered the fray this year with smaller stores in Harpenden, Hertfordshire and Crouch End, north London, both less than half the size of the average branch. It is looking at opening around 50 new stores over the next five years, a mix of large and small format outlets.
As those and other savvy independents know, consumers need compelling reasons to make a special trip to a wine shop when they are so easily served by the supermarkets and the internet.
The Oddbins of the 21st century just didn’t have enough of them.