Are you too in with the in crowd? And how peas figure
Published:  25 January, 2008

Q I've just done an audit of my wine range and found that 74 per cent of what is on my shelves is New World. I'm curious to know if that's broadly in line with the market or, as I suspect, I'm ­under-trading on European wines.

A Your suspicions are well founded. According to the most recent Nielsen stats, the New World has just under 60 per cent share of the off-trade in value terms, and about the same by volume.

But perhaps you're just ahead of your time. Growth in New World wine is at 7.7 per cent, faster than the overall market at 6.6 per cent, so it's possible that at some time in the future its share could indeed reach the dizzy heights of seven in every 10 bottles.

But bear in mind that, within the New World, the picture is patchy to say the least. At one extreme you've got Chile on 23.5 per cent growth and New Zealand on 27 per cent, and at the other there's South Africa at -2.7 per cent.

The European countries which are ­currently outpacing the general market are Italy (up 11.6 per cent - thank you, Pinot Grigio) and Spain (sales up 9.3

per cent).

Q Why the 33cl capacity for beer bottles? Why not something more obvious like 30c, 40cl or even 35cl?

A It seems like a random figure, but the reason we have adopted 33cl as a standard size is all to do with peas. Stay with us here.

Before World War II, can makers in the US produced tins for peas with a volume of 12 fluid ounces. When they started servicing the brewing industry, they used the same template.

In metric Europe, the obvious thing would have been to follow the Americans' lead. That would have meant beer being packaged in cans with a capacity of 35.5cl, a little unwieldy and not as neat as 33cl - which is, of course, a third of a litre. Or very nearly, anyway.

Hence 33cl has become a standard measure, though in today's beer market it has become associated primarily with bottled premium lagers.

Q Why have all the brewery-owned off-licences disappeared?

A For much the same reason as brewery-owned pubs have disappeared: vertical integration (as it's known when suppliers own their own retail outlets) became less cost-efficient than servicing supermarkets, or other people's pubs. In the on-trade, the Beer Orders were designed to increase competition in the market and prompted a widespread sell-off of pub estates.

Back in 1972, there were 7,244 brewery-owned off-licences, controlling 24 per cent of the market. Allied Breweries owned the biggest, Victoria Wine; Bass owned Augustus Barnett; Whitbread owned Thresher. Watney, Courage and Scottish & Newcastle were also in on the act.

Whitbread sold its half-share in Thresher as recently as 2000 - the same year that Fuller's sold its 60-strong chain to Unwins.

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