Premium wine: what we want for Christmas


With Christmas just around the corner, Alistair Niven, Account Strategist at BD Network, takes a look at how premium wines can make a splash this yuletide – a season that’s defined by food, drink and social celebration.

Mistletoe and wine

It’s been an interesting year in the category. Since 2017, what have been classed (perhaps harshly) as ‘middle of the road’ wine brands have been in decline (you know the kind – available in the shop at the end of the road for 6 or 7 quid, they’ll do in a pinch if you don’t have access to a bigger store with more choice). ASDA alone culled 60 SKUs earlier this year in favour of more premium wine and spirit products (The Grocer May 2018). As a result, the category has immiscibly separated leaving value wines at the bottom and a premium wines at the top, with offerings in between slowly draining away.

Despite the volume decline, the value of the category has risen 3.6% (Kantar May 2018). Whilst possibly triggered by Mark Price’s comments in 2017 (Why you should always buy £10 bottles of wine), the shift toward premium wine has been attributed to two buying groups: the established wine drinkers who are looking to expand their repertoire and a new generation of millennial drinkers that have different purchasing habits. These new drinkers are more health conscious, motivated by experiences and because they drink less, they are willing to spend more on what little they do drink to enjoy premium quality (TRND June 2018). According to Mintel, over a quarter of this audience prefer to stay in and drink than go out to socialise so it could be suggested that wine lends itself to evenings in with friends and dinner (better say than spirits or beer).

‘Tis the season…

When you then add the benefits of the festive season to this landscape, Christmas becomes the Superbowl for premium wines. Vivino – a wine app for identifying, rating and recommending wine, seems to corroborate this as it sees a massive spike in usage throughout December (its peak for the year). And it’s not hard to see why.

At Christmas we don’t mind splashing out a little more to enjoy the best. It’s the one time of year we can collectively indulge in a little largesse without feeling guilty (until consciences return in January). A seasonal menu and cold winter nights provide more consumption opportunities for premium wines with an audience that prefers to stay in. It’s also a social time of year for catching up, with friends and family. As hosts we want to put on a good spread and as guests we want to bring something a little more special to the table. Not to forget gifting, which extends beyond nearest and dearest to include colleagues and even school teachers. In fact the opinion of those less close to us probably pushes us further into premium wine choices. Somehow a bottle of Barefoot for an end of term present doesn’t quite ring true at Christmas.

Eat, drink and be merry

So with the appetite confirmed and near perfect conditions, this is how we’d recommend premium wine brands convert sales this December:

  • Category Signposting: Education and Navigation – Category leaders recognise that not everyone is a connoisseur yet, so helping consumers navigate an overwhelming category will make their wines more selectable than just the label. Brands can differentiate themselves at point of sale by moving beyond flavour profile and bringing to life the drinking experience (whether it be the food to be enjoyed with or special serves (e.g. perfect mulled with cinnamon, apple and cognac). This education starts out of store via carefully executed media to create purchase intent before shoppers even reach the wine section
  • Distinctiveness – Standing out on shelf is the first hurdle to eventual selection when a wine choice is not predetermined. Here bottle finishes (shape, colour, material), limited edition packaging (boxes, sleeves, wraps) and unusual print finishes (varnishes, embossing, foiling) achieve great stand out and we’d be looking at how we could wrap our bottles this Christmas
  • Gift positioning – Packaging and gifting solutions can provide a tipping point (remember the Coca-Cola ribbon label?) when there’s a shortlist of wines on offer. Something as simple as offering a free wine bag or the like can help a premium wine position itself as the ideal candidate for ‘bring a bottle’
  • Co packed gifts – This is less about branded glassware and more about items of use that enhance the drinking experience. Items such as bottle stoppers that promote moderate drinking in more than one sitting or bottle top aerators that work as you pour are the types of items we’d recommend that premium brands offer
  • Seasonal Food Pairings – Certain foods also enjoy sales uplift during the festive season (e.g. speciality cheese and meats). We’re expecting to see more partnerships between premium wines and seasonal foods, as it delivers on the experience that the millennial audience pursues, increases basket spend for retailers and can deliver out of category placement for sampling opportunities
  • Increased spending on retailers’ site banners, ECRM and digital display – The urban millennial is a valuable target market for premium wines but living in cities means that they don’t drive a car. Whilst they rely on home delivery for the big shop, premium wine brands should leverage digital touchpoints to educate and get in basket
  • Impulse and Convenience – The convenience channel still plays an important role for consumers grabbing last minute items ahead of hosting or attending a party. Premium wine brands should invest in out of category display units to capitalise on impulse purchase and prevent shoppers reaching the wine aisle
  • 0 is hero – With so many parties on it’s important to spare a thought for the designated drivers and those unable to partake during the festive season. There’s a key opportunity for Low and No alcohol wines to cater to them this Christmas and also capitalise on the millennial audience’s more abstemious drinking habits. We expect more shelf space to be given over to these products in retail with a premium brand leading the way

Whatever you choose to indulge in this December, we wish you a very merry Christmas. Too soon?

BD Network is an independent Brand Activation Agency created to Murder the Mediocre. They believe the age of selling is over – it’s time to start engaging. They create engagement with meaning and help clients connect with the right audience at the right time, and in the right way. They do this by creating ideas based on three pillars: People; really understanding the audience and what makes them tick. Purpose; leveraging what a brand stands for to create meaningful engagement. Participation; inviting the audience to join in, making them feel connected and valued.