Procrastination required far more effort before the internet. Locating endless pages of time-wasting distraction necessitated a printed catalogue, and king of them all was Innovations. Subtitled Tomorrow’s Products ... Today! it was the mail-order equivalent of a fairground novelty stall, selling such junk as zip-up ties and big toe straighteners.
Genuine innovation might not be easy, then, but it is essential to avoid becoming stale and overfamiliar. The wine industry has introduced all sorts of novel ideas in recent years – but it’s always worth looking out for the next innovation too.
Surely the most important development in wine retail recently has been the advent of sampling technology. Allowing customers to taste wines while keeping the remaining contents in perfect condition has made retail more interactive and created hybrid bar/shops that have been hugely successful.
We’ve also seen greater customer engagement through social media, one-hour delivery pioneered by Amazon, crowd-funded producers from Naked Wines and product innovations such as flavoured and reduced-alcohol wines taking advantage of improving technology in an attempt to widen wine’s appeal.
Meanwhile, Majestic Wine’s new managing director was recently quoted saying he wants its shops to be modelled on the Apple Store, while Aldi opened a temporary pop-up wine store in a shipping container in Shoreditch to coincide with London Wine Week.
So what will come next? And will it be the wine equivalent of the zip-up tie?
One big way that innovation could change wine retail relates to packaging. For centuries the 75cl glass bottle has reigned supreme in our market, but there are plenty of options that could be well placed to challenge that dominance. These days, an increasing volume of wine is shipped to the UK in bulk. That allows far greater control of how wine is packaged. Rather than defaulting to the standard wine bottle, retailers should be able to request different sizes and formats. That includes bag-in-box and cans, as well as glass bottles.
Kingsland Drinks in Manchester even offers a bespoke carbonation service that can make any wine fizzy. Many professionals will wince at the thought, but such innovations keep industries evolving.
The point is that, once bulk wine arrives on our shores, it could potentially be bottled to order. This could give off-licences a considerable edge over supermarkets, for which handling smaller or irregular formats is logistically inefficient. That could mean offering customers the exact same wine in a range of everything from single-serve 18.7cl plastic bottles to 33cl cans, and could even include innovations such as the so-called “bagnum”, a 150cl bag-not-in-box, as championed by Burgundy producer Le Grappin.
Statistics can prove anything, but in the US last year, sales of wine in cans grew by 125% and is now worth US$6.4 million a year and counting. If it seems improbable that alternative packaging will continue to grow in popularity, remember the same was once said of screwcaps.