Steve Barton, joint director of Brand Phoenix, urged buyers to focus on the shopper experience and how wine is sold.
He said: “The modern day wine buyer needs to become a wine retailer. Yes, retailers need to have someone who understands wine on the technical side, maybe an MW, if they want to go that far, but wine buyers also need to be wine retailers.
“It’s about classic category management, how that shelf looks in-store – that’s the new deal in wine.
“That’s why the US has been so successful because there they sell wine as retailers. How long do buying teams spend in-store compared to how much time they spend travelling? Retail is the key thing.
“If convenience is getting so big and so much attention, but if you can only have 40 or 50 wines in that range, how precious can [retailers] get over a range that size?”
Another supplier told OLN: “I contacted one retailer when I saw our wine was out of stock across a number of stores so we could work out how to resolve the problem. But the buyer reacted as though I had just popped into my local one and called up to complain. They told me they didn’t have time to check the stores.”
The calls come after Dan Jago, Tesco’s UK and group wine director defended criticism that supermarket buyers lacked the experience to meet the challenges of the current trading environment (OLN, April 5, 2013).
But Julian Dyer, Australian Vintage’s UK general manager and former senior buyer at Sainsbury’s, said: “There has been a lot of stuff said about brain drain in retail but suppliers need to work with buyers.
“As an industry, suppliers need to step up. The buyers know what they are doing. The big retailers are data rich [about consumers]. It’s important buyers spend time in market as it’s only then that you find out what’s new.
“As a producer we would like to see them more. In fact, at the recent Tesco conference, it said it wanted to spend more time with the supply base.”
Australian Vintage’s chief executive, Neil McGuigan, added that buyer visits were vital to drive innovation in the category.
He said: “Retailers need to be more of a partner and be less about the buy and sell. It’s important to be able to have a robust discussion around the tasting table about styles and opportunities. Sometimes, as a result, buyers take a punt.
“As a buyer you can be conservative and you won’t get anything wrong. But you won’t get anything right either. You have to be brave and give things a go.”