On one particularly memorable occasion, the frighteningly competent visiting team notched up 200 and something runs for three wickets in their 25 overs, well beyond the capabilities of the home side, the Prince Rupert veterans XI. Undaunted, the locals quickly devised an ingenious solution to equalise the odds.
While the visitors were enjoying a pint after their exploits, the locals sneaked round the outfield and moved the traffic cones marking the boundary inwards. Result: Prince Rupert
veterans XI reached the winning score in under 25 overs. The visitors were perplexed, and sought consolation in more beer.
Fast-forward 20 years, to today's equally daunting challenges that the UK wine market faces . We have the double whammy of government-imposed duty rises and exchange rates driving up cost of goods at the point of sale. The
government and the medical lobby are telling consumers with all the subtlety of a megaphone that alcohol is bad, bad, bad. And
on top of the credit crunch, there are
thousands of wine consumers who are leaving the UK to return to their
So, can we learn anything from the
veterans XI? Can we
move the boundaries of the wine market to create new opportunities for durable and possibly even profitable growth?
The right pitch
Wine occupies a niche position in consumers' lives. While the mystique that has been created and perpetuated around the wine moment has served us well in developing and differentiating the category, it has also established a set of constraints about how wine should be packaged and where/when it should be consumed. Listening to consumers (as we spend much of our time doing), and extrapolating from their attitudes and needs, it is increasingly clear that the boundaries of the wine moment can be moved or, to some extent, removed.
First, let's consider the packaging. The coffee moment has
almost doubled in size with carry-away and disposable
packaging. Somebody thought it all through - insulated cardboard to carry the skinny latte and keep it warm, a fitted lid to prevent spillage
to make drinking it easier. It's a total package that could be disposed of very conveniently, if not always environmentally responsibly.
The coffee cups are
available in a range of sizes to suit different needs,
they are stackable,
and are easy to store at the point of sale.
Now, we are seeing and indeed working on an increasing and quite diverse set of wine packaging initiatives
that apply the same end-to-end thinking to wine, addressing both convenience and environmental considerations. The recent Drinks Pack
2009 conference brought many of these into one
place , demonstrating the creative energy and ingenuity that is now increasingly focused on delivering wine in lighter glass, plastic, cans and pouches ... and ... polythene to keep it cool longer, perhaps?
Of course, unlike coffee, wine producers are still constrained by increasingly anachronistic legislation which dictates the pack volumes
we are allowed to deliver to consumers. How nice it would be to offer,
say 33cl for the wine-loving singleton, or 60cl to accompany an under-£10
The more fundamental question is this: if the brand owners and their packaging partners can do for wine what has been achieved to permanently move the coffee boundary, will the consumer embrace these ingenious new ideas? Only if we as an industry seriously address the other three prerequisite hurdles: how, where and when it is sold, communicating the benefit, and selling it affordably.
While there are many sometimes frustrating but ultimately legitimate constraints on where wine is sold and to whom, the same ingenuity that is energising the supply side needs to be reflected both in traditional retail settings and new opportunities. Sporting and outdoor events are one but not the only obvious potential. I know my family would love to be able to enjoy wine while watching West Ham at
Upton Park (sometimes to drown sorrows!), but the only container officially allowed in is a half-empty and open plastic water bottle. What a retail opportunity if the pack was right and authority to sell within the stadium came together.
Perhaps Twickenham (Millennium Stadium, Murrayfield - read on) is a better example. If thousands of pints of beer can be dispensed every minute at these great stadia, why can't wine be more easily, quickly and perhaps even cheaply delivered in consumer and environment-friendly packs? Horse racing, music events, cricket
... the list goes on.
Many of the ingredients are already in place, but real wine category growth still requires more end-to-end thinking about the consumer need and drinking situation, environmental issues, how to retail a controlled substance in consumer-convenient settings, and selling at attractive prices that still generate a fair return . But more than anything else, we need to think through how to encourage more consumers to think "this is an affordable wine moment" in more situations, and confront them with ingenious and compelling packaging, branding and associated communications.
The wine category can grow by moving the boundaries, but only by strenuously applying end-to-end ingenuity and perhaps some boldness. The consumer who 15 years ago would never have carried a coffee down the street will follow you.