“It’s an interesting time to be a wine buyer,” says Charles Cutteridge, wine sourcing manager for Morrisons. “There are a lot of changes coming in terms of duty which will affect the kinds of products we put on shelves, so it will be interesting to see how consumers react to this.”

With 10 years of experience in the wine industry under his belt, Cutteridge held roles at the likes of Majestic and Broadland Drinks before joining the Morrisons BWS team in 2020. Speaking to Drinks Retailing at the annual Autumn/Winter Wine Tasting, he reflects on this year’s duty changes and how they could impact consumer behaviour.

“Outside of the trade, there does seem to be a general lack of awareness of these duty changes. However, they will obviously impact wine prices and I think this will feed into the wider drive to keep household costs down,” he says, mentioning the ongoing cost of living crisis. 

“Because of the way that people’s purchasing habits have changed, firstly as a result of Covid and now the more general pressure on people’s budgets, we have seen a desire for better value options. Our take on that is to make sure that we offer a wide range for every occasion and budget.”

With Christmas on the corner, Cutteridge says that it is difficult to predict whether economic headwinds will impact drinks retailers during the traditionally lucrative festive season.

“We’d like to think that consumers will be able to enjoy Christmas, but in reality it remains to be seen what the impact of this year will have on consumer buying habits.”

However, he does believe that the growing interest in home drinking occasions presents an opportunity for the off-trade: “Obviously the cost of living crisis has been a running theme this year, but what we’re looking at this Christmas and for next year is how home drinking occasions are changing. 

“There’s not just one key home drinking occasion – against the backdrop of the cost of living crisis, more people are drinking in and looking for wines that they can have with a variety of occasions, whether that be something a bit more posh or something that they can have with a spag bol on a Tuesday night. So we want to make sure that we have wine for every occasion.”

While value is one of the biggest priorities for Morrisons, sustainability remains high on Morrisons agenda, with Cutteridge saying: “Sustainability is always front of mind when working with suppliers.”

Speaking specifically of organic wines, he says: “We support suppliers who are looking to go down the organic or biodynamic route, but ultimately it’s about responsible winemaking, and sometimes a moderate use of pesticides is not a bad thing in terms of managing disease pressures in the vineyard. It’s all about doing it in a responsible way.”

In terms of popular wine regions, Cutteridge says that Morrisons is paying close attention to South Africa at the moment, and in particular, Pinotage.

“A big thing that we’ve seen in red wine, and specifically South Africa, is a shift towards lighter, more drinkable wines,” he says, noting that consumers are leaning towards more “fresh and fruity” reds.

“The revival of Pinotage is really interesting. When I started in the industry, there were a lot of very smoky styles out there, whereas the way people are making it now, it’s a lot fresher and more fruit forward. And I think that’s great because that’s what people are drinking more of at the moment.”

Looking ahead, Cutteridge says the supermarket will continue to expand its range of lighter, lower alcohol wines

“We don’t quite know how the market is going to react to duty changes yet, so we’re going to keep experimenting with lower alcohol options which means that we can continue to hold those lower price points while catering to consumers who are looking for fresher, lighter styles. 

“But ultimately, my job is to put the best wine on the shelf that I can.”