The perfect match

04 April, 2014

Bookmakers have slashed the odds on Britain basking in the hottest temperatures on record this summer to 4/1 after forecasters predicted a prolonged heatwave.

The El Niño water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean is heating up and the butterfly effect will apparently result in a glorious summer in the UK as the jet stream slowly ferries the heat our way.

Vantage Weather Systems’ Jonathan Powell says May will “light the blue touch paper” ahead of “significant heat spikes and spells of dry, fine weather”.

If the forecasters are to be trusted we can all look forward to our dreary shores turning into a sun-drenched utopia full of picnics and barbecues for a good four months – and drinks retailers should be rubbing their hands with glee.

Warm weather means a boost in sales: July 2013 was 3% warmer than July 2012 and enjoyed 100 more hours of sunshine, and BWS sales were up 40%, according to data from IRI and the Met Office.

Beer and cider were the big winners, but retailers can truly capitalise on the sunshine by trading shoppers up from slabs of lager to premium beer, wine and spirits through creative POS.

Food matching is becoming an increasingly important part of retailers’ BWS sales strategies, with in-store recipe cards, wines sold as part of meal deals and neck collars with food matching suggestions all tantalising shoppers’ taste buds.

In the summer months this can go into overdrive if retailers manage to capture the sensual essence of shoppers spending lazy, sun-drenched afternoons with friends and family amid jugs of cucumber-laden Pimm’s, crates of cold beer and crisp white wines as the smell of charcoal from the barbeque permeates the warm air.

“Consumers continue to enjoy eating in, with many choosing to do so more and more in the current economic climate,” says Julian Dyer, UK general manager at Australian Vintage. “Convenience foods and fuss-free recipes are a major part of this trend. People don’t have hours to spend planning their menu for the week and ordering their wines in advance, so helpful, simple wine matching suggestions, whether in store or online, are a great way to ensure consumers can grab a bottle that they can enjoy with their meal. Without a doubt this represents a great opportunity for savvy retailers to boost sales.

“There are several great examples of retailers already making the most of this opportunity.”

Food pairing recommendations on the back labels of wine bottles have been around for a long time, but drinks retailers are growing increasingly creative as they try to ride on the coat tails of the celebrity chef-inspired trend of whipping up gourmet meals at home, that shows no sign of abating. At Real Ale in Twickenham every single bottle comes with a unique food matching suggestion. Favourite Beers in Cheltenham offers shoppers tutored cider and cheese tastings.

At Tesco ale and speciality beers come with “goes well with” recommendations, while its wine site acts as a virtual sommelier as Britain’s largest retailer proclaims that food matching is “a fascinating subject that is fast becoming a recognised discipline”.

Waitrose has beer and cheese days, food pairing recommendations, events at the company’s cookery school and food matching advice on its TV channel. Vagabond Wines in west London even offers shoppers food to accompany the try-before-you-buy samples it dishes out from Enomatic machines in-store.

The horsemeat scandal has left consumers keen to know more about the provenance of food – and drink – and willing to pay more for quality ingredients and locally-sourced, craft products.

They are also increasingly prepared to pay more for drinks that compliment food: as the team behind expensive tonic water Fever Tree loves to say, “why pay all that money for a wonderful gin and ruin it with a cheap tonic?” The same applies to ruining nice food with cheap wine.

Kobus Basson, owner of South African winery Kleine Zalze, says: “Retailers like Waitrose and Sainsbury’s are stocking reserve Chenin and it’s critical to talk about how it goes with food. It’s part of lifestyle. People who like wine like food generally. You can’t split it.

“It’s critical that our wines can match up with food. Waitrose, the Co-operative and Sainsbury’s buyers all look at the combination of food and wine and that’s why they are prepared to stock more expensive wines and can sell them.”

But even more important than the horsemeat debacle in the move towards provenance and premiumisation (the two buzzwords most beloved of marketing teams and industry analysts at the moment) of the grocery market is the rise of Jamie, Gordon, Heston et al, the new breed of post-Delia rock star chefs that spend more time on TV screens than Clare Balding. These chefs are cash cows, and the drinks industry is busy cashing in. Inter-Rhône said that last month 200,000 people watched a single food and wine matching video it put on its website, and it is now throwing the bulk of its marketing budget on getting celebrity chefs to endorse Rhône wines as a perfect partner to various meals.

Waitrose has set Heston Blumenthal about making the perfect gin and tonic for shoppers to enjoy, while Cheshire brewery Robinsons has teamed up with Simon Rimmer to make beers specifically crafted to go with certain foods.

Dyer at Australian Vintage says: “At McGuigan we are ideally placed to make the most of these food-matching opportunities with retailers because we already produce a wide range of great-quality, affordable and approachable wines that suit all types of dishes. For the past two years we have been working with [celebrity chef and Masterchef judge] John Torode, running two very successful consumer promotions matching John’s recipes to McGuigan wines through the Neil McGuigan and John Torode Recipe Collection.

This is a natural partnership for us as John and Neil come from the same area of the Hunter Valley and both have a love of great-tasting, unfussy, food and wine matches. There has been a great response to these promotions from consumers and we intend to continue to work with retailers to promote simple food and wine matching.”

It is up to retailers and suppliers to explain to customers that a glass of water simply doesn’t cut the mustard, that oily fish isn’t the same without a crisp white like a Picpoul de Pinet to cut through it, cleansing the palate in anticipation of the next bite, that a burger off the barbecue isn’t the same without a refreshing pilsner, that a sweet Loire will enhance the pleasure of eating strawberries and cream.

“Retailers can take advantage of the increased interest in wine and food matching which is being driven by the restaurant business,” says Nick Tatham MW at Continental. “People are encouraged to choose wines to match specific dishes and many restaurants offer a menu with wines to suit for each course. Wine retailers could easily do the reverse and produce display material to highlight which foods go best with which wines. Many customers are at a loss to know what to choose and need guidance and advice.”

Tatham recommends a Lugana Classico DOC Provenza with chicken salad, a Primitivo IGT Salento Cantine due Palme with barbecue pork ribs and a Sauvignon IGT Collevento 921 with grilled mackerel.

It is not just celebrity chefs that people are trying to mimic. As household budgets remain tight amid difficult economic conditions and people visit bars less, they are also trying to ape leading bartenders by creating dazzling cocktails at home.

And the season to really capitalise on this is summer. Andrew King, chief executive at cocktail mix supplier Funkin, says: “The trend of pairing cocktails with food is growing as consumers are entertaining at home more often. Retailers can maximise sales by including food pairing suggestions for popular summer cocktails such as the Piña Colada and the Mojito. It is important to help shoppers realise that creating cocktails at home can be simple and that they pair brilliantly with classic summer dishes, like barbecue chicken. To drive sales, retailers should focus on prominently displaying mixers with spirits and clearly informing shoppers on which foods would work best with rum- or vodka-based cocktails or tropical-themed drinks, which are especially popular in summer.”

The leading brewers have teamed up to form the Let There Be Beer campaign, and this focuses on food and beer matching.

Marston’s has done a lot of working on food matchings for its new Revisionist range, recommending fish and chips with its lager, hot wings with its rye pale ale, squash and frisée salad with its wheat beer and rib eye burger with its Steam beer.

Meanwhile the Beer Academy ran a competition to find the perfect beer to go with barbecues and decided that summer ale just about pipped an IPA.

But despite beer and spirits suppliers’ protestations, wine is probably still best placed to capitalise on summer food matching. Paul Hinks, retail sales manager at International Brands, says: “Creative ranging and signposts in-store will help consumers make their purchase decisions and build credibility as a destination to buy wine. This can be achieved through cross-category displays or linked deals targeting key occasions such as ‘Summer BBQ’, ‘White Zinfandel & Strawberries’ at Wimbledon, ‘Big Shiraz with Steaks and BBQ’ and ‘Terrific Chardonnays for Grilled Chicken’ merchandised in the fridges.

“Retailers should use POS to highlight tasting notes and recommend food pairings to help create a drinking and dining occasion.”

International Brands has a new range called Broadleaf and Hinks says the Australian Chardonnay and Semillon Chardonnay are the ideal accompaniment to salads and grilled fish dishes.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc should also feature widely among summer food matching recommendations as they work with fish and have enough acidity to cut through tomatoes, which feature widely in salads. “Light, simple meals such as salads, barbecued dishes and pasta are synonymous with summer,” says Brent Marris, chief winemaker at Marisco Vineyards. “Both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are ideal matches for fresh, summer salads. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc can also handle spicy flavours, so is good to have on hand while barbecuing.”

The East of England Co-operative plans much of its wine range around what goes well with food and taps into the provenance trend by stocking locally-produced food and drink and helping shoppers pair them up.

Kevin Warden, manager of its Sourced Locally scheme, says: “Our local wine suppliers have years of experience in food matching and it’s important to us that we pass this knowledge on to our customers so they know how best to enjoy them.”

It has teamed up with English sparkling wine producer Dedham Vale, matching its rosé with summer foods. “It’s a light and refreshing medium-dry wine with a hint of summer on the nose,” says Dedham Vale managing director Tom Bunting. “In the hotter months it’s an excellent companion for barbecues and also complements spicy foods, salads and summer picnics.”

From sparkling wine producers to cocktail mix suppliers, everyone has their own idea of what goes well with food, and some wine snobs may scoff at some of the recommendations, but the beauty of food matching suggestions is that they are just that: suggestions. There is absolutely nothing to stop retailers of all sizes using creative POS throughout the summer months to help make food pairing easier for customers and nudge them towards more expensive drinks. Let’s just hope those forecasters are right this time.

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