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What Are UK Wine Merchants Looking For When They Select a New Wine Brand?

26/06/2019

The ability to understand brand identity is especially true when you are reaching out to independent UK wine merchants.

There are several different factors that could determine whether or not a UK wine merchant selects you as a new wine brand to carry. Here’s a closer look at each of these factors and why they matter.

Overall brand fit

Perhaps the most important factor to keep in mind is the overall “fit” of your wine brand with the brand identity of the UK wine merchant. Some wine merchants, for example, prefer to work with smaller producers. Others prefer to work with wine brands from specific regions. And still, others prefer to focus on a certain wine style or winemaking style.

The ability to understand brand identity is especially true when you are reaching out to independent UK wine merchants, each of which works very hard to project a certain image for consumers. If you are not familiar with the overall brand identity of top UK wine merchants, there are a variety of resources to help. Beverage Trade Network, for example, provides a list of the top UK wine merchants, with a short description of their speciality or focus. And plenty of UK wine trade publications provide stories, updates and features on top UK wine retailers.

With a little analysis and research, you can start to put together the right outreach program to contact these retailers. For example, the wine merchant HarperWells is known for focusing on modern examples from established regions, with a real focus on young, forward-thinking producers. In contrast, Loki Wines in Birmingham (as perhaps implied by its name which references the Norse god Loki) searches out wines with more of an anti-establishment bent to them. Loki Wines has a particular focus on English sparkling wines, natural wines and Croatian wines.

The more you look, the more you can find examples of UK wine merchants with distinctive profiles. Cambridge Wine Merchants has a strong focus on fortified wines and French wines from the region of Languedoc-Roussillon. Bottle Apostle is big into wines from Portugal and Northern Italy. Vagabond Wines focuses on smaller producers and winemakers with a strong organic focus. And Berry Bros. & Rudd – as befitting London’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, with a tradition reaching back to 1698 – tends to focus on premier Old World winemakers from regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont and the Rhone.

Thus, you can see that the focus and speciality of wine merchants can differ markedly. If you’re an up-and-coming wine brand from Eastern Europe, your best bet might be a wine merchant such as Loki Wines, given its focus on Croatia. If you’re a wine brand from Portugal, you might want to focus on merchants such as Bottle Apostle, which has a focus on Portuguese wines.

So, as a first step, you will want to take an honest assessment of your wine brand. What does it stand for? What makes it unique? What can it offer wine drinkers? By answering these types of questions, you will be in a much better position to determine which UK wine merchants would make the best match for you.

Market conditions

Wine merchants will also be very aware of overall market conditions, especially as they impact overall supply and demand. For example, wine merchants will be most interested in wine brands that are coming from a wine region where they are having a hard time keeping up with customer demand. If customers are constantly coming into retail locations and inquiring about wines from a certain region, then the wine merchant, in turn, will be very open to the idea of wine brands from that region. Conversely, if wines from a particular region are piling up in inventory, it could be the case that they will turn a blind eye to any wine brand – no matter how stellar – that is also from that region. They might perceive that brand as being “risky,” given current supply and demand factors.

On a related note, UK wine merchants are also very aware of emerging trends and which wines have a lot of momentum around them. This could be a wine varietal, (such as Rosé), a wine region (such as Provence) or perhaps even a combination of the two (such as Rosé wines from Provence). If you can position your wine brand as being part of this “hot” trend, then you will have much higher chances of success. Within the UK wine market, for example, French Crémant wines are now growing in popularity, as is the entire category of sparkling wines.

Reliability of supply

Also on the topic of supply and demand, being able to nail down a reputation as a reliable supplier is key. This is particularly true for larger wine merchants with multiple locations, where it is absolutely imperative that there are no problems with the overall supply chain and receiving the product in a timely manner. A small boutique wine merchant in London might be able to work with small boutique wine brands, but the equation could change considerably when dealing with larger UK wine merchants.

The right mix of quality and value

Of course, all wine merchants are looking for high-quality wines. That almost goes without saying. However, they are also looking for high-quality wines that offer plenty of value to a consumer. They might segment their wines into the under $10 category, the $10-$20 categories, and the over $20 category. At each of these price points, a wine needs to provide plenty of perceived value. Put into other words, a wine drinker will be much more likely to purchase a $15 bottle of wine that tastes like a $30 bottle of wine rather than a $30 bottle of wine that tastes like a $30 bottle of wine.

So “value” is not at all about “affordability.” Instead, it reflects the right mix of quality and price. The easiest wines to sell are those that consumers perceive as offering plenty of value for their “investment.” Thus, it’s absolutely critical to nail down the proper pricing for your wines so that that offer a very compelling value proposition to consumers.

Diversification

Many UK wine merchants take a portfolio approach to their wines. What this means is that they are looking to diversify their portfolio according to varietal, region, style and price. Bottle Apostle, for example, looks for a 50/50 mix for its wines, with half of them geared to the wine novice, and half of them geared to the wine connoisseur. Other wine merchants may have an even more granular breakdown of bottles at different price points.

Once you know the various ways that a retailer segments its portfolio, that is when you can take an approach to sell to them that is based around the idea of “holes” in that portfolio. For example, a wine merchant might already have plenty of brands from Napa and Sonoma in California and might be looking for the addition of an up-and-coming California wine brand from a wine region like the Central Coast. Or, a wine merchant might have plenty of Pinot Noir brands from Oregon producers but might want to round out its portfolio of Oregon wines with an innovative producer in the Willamette Valley that is making Oregon sparkling wine.

Support and merchandising

Another important factor to keep in mind is the level and scope of “after-sale” support that a wine brand can provide. In other words, once a wine brand makes the sale, what steps are they able to take to help a wine merchant sell more wine? It’s helpful if your wine brand has a strong, on-the-ground presence in that geographic region. That’s what sometimes makes it difficult for foreign producers to crack into the UK wine market – the natural assumption to make is that, due to geographic or language factors, there might not be the amount of after-sale support needed to sell wine.

It’s helpful, of course, if you know in advance where UK wine merchants are looking for the most help and support. For example, Corks Out in northwest England is known for its strong focus on “demystifying wine” and hosting a lot of events based around matching foods with wines. Thus, if your wine brand can host tastings, educational seminars, or food-themed events, that might make for a very attractive value proposition for a wine merchant like Corks Out.

Market timing

Finally, a word needs to be made about market timing. Or, as it is more popularly referred to as, “being in the right place at the right time.” Some UK wine merchants might not have a stated intention of buying a certain type of wine, but things just seem to work out. This is especially true if you have sales reps regularly making the rounds, constantly showing wines to merchants. A wine merchant might only have an intention of re-ordering the same old wine they always order, but something that they read in the media or something they heard at a recent industry trade show or conference somehow compels them to seek out your brand. To boost the odds of this happening, you need to make sure that your wine brand has a very convincing brand story with no loose ends – the overall story and narrative needs to match both what’s in the bottle and what’s on the bottle. The label, the packaging and even the choice of cork need to reinforce the overall brand image and identity.

UK wine merchants take a number of factors into account when selecting a new wine brand. By focusing on these factors above, you can optimize your chances of being selected by many of the UK’s top wine merchants.