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Understanding & unlocking opportunities in the UK wine market

A dynamic UK market continues to offer exciting opportunities for wine producers large and small from all over the world, but intense competition means having the right focus and sales strategy has never been more important

While Covid-19 has hit the on-trade particularly hard in the last 18 months, there is evidence that consumers’ interest in wine has continued to flourish.

‘Consumer demand for wine remains strong with wine the UK’s most popular alcoholic drink,’ said Miles Beale, CEO of the country’s Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).

Now, Decanter’s new DWWA Buyers’ Report programme gives award-winning producers of all sizes bespoke insight and expert advice on how to unlock opportunities offered by a UK wine market that has long enjoyed a reputation for showcasing a diverse range of styles from all over the world.

Through the initiative, medal winners at the Decanter World Wine Awards can get personalised feedback on the commercial positioning of their wine from an expert panel with strong purchasing influence across the market, from fine wine bars and restaurants to supermarkets and independent retailers.

UK wine market trends: Innovation and the shift to ecommerce

A major feature of the last 18 months has been the ability of the trade, including importers, fine wine merchants, supermarkets, independent retailers and also restaurants and bars, to adapt their businesses for a bigger focus on ecommerce. 

A digital transformation that had already begun in the UK wine market before the pandemic has become more sophisticated. New sales channels have developed, such as via apps offering instant delivery, while virtual tastings hosted by sommeliers, retailers and merchants have showcased exciting wines and also given consumers unprecedented access to winemakers and experts from their own living rooms.

Consumers, for their part, have embraced the idea of buying more wine online and there is evidence that this trend will continue. Analyst group Wine Intelligence said in its recent Global Compass report, In the UK, a larger proportion of consumers have said they would be more likely than pre-pandemic to continue using online channels when purchasing beverages.’

Top wine retailers in the UK: See Decanter Retailer Awards 2021 Shortlist

One recent example of innovation in the market is Majestic Wine’s new ‘Wine Club’, targeting the fast-growing wine subscription sector. It is designed to help consumers discover new wines, as well as provide access to educational content, like virtual tastings and food pairing advice. 

From new-wave wines to classics: the dynamic UK wine market

It’s long been a strength of the UK market that exciting, under-the-radar bottles sit alongside an enduring appreciation of the classics. Importers and suppliers play their part alongside retailers, from Aldi to Waitrose to small-scale independent shops, as well as new wine bars and innovative restaurant lists.

For example, Marks & Spencer launched a new ‘Found’ range in April 2021 to help highlight ‘hidden gems’ from Romanian Fetească Regală white wine to Italian Ribolla Gialla.

There are broader trends, of course, such as the rise and rise of rosé, growing interest in vegan wine and a shift to new packaging formats, particularly premium bag-in-box and cans.

But a defining feature of the UK market has been its reputation as a place where household names like California Cabernet or Rioja co-exist with diverse and fascinating styles from all over the world- including English and Welsh wines produced closer to home.    

A word about Brexit

One issue that has loomed large in 2021 is the post-Brexit trading environment. While logistical challenges cannot be ignored, the WSTA points out that the UK is still one of the world’s biggest importers of wine by volume and value. 

‘We know the government is listening to our expertise when it comes to helping the wine sector trade without barriers and tariffs,’ said Beale at the WSTA. Ministers recently agreed to scrap V1-1 import certificates on wine, helping the industry to avoid significant extra costs in the new post-Brexit environment.

Beale said there is more work to do, but he highlighted the government’s progress on free trade deals and added, ‘The UK wine industry is rightly pouring resources into improving technology to ensure smoother transit in a more sustainable way.’

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Now perhaps more than ever, a key challenge for wine producers is developing and executing the right strategy to capitalise on the opportunity offered by the UK market.

Wine Intelligence said in its December 2020 Landscapes report, ‘The UK remains a very interesting and diverse market, with niche and mainstream opportunities, but one where wine businesses often face their toughest tests.’ 

How the DWWA Buyers’ Report can help

The Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) Buyers’ Report programme enhances medal winners’ chances of success in the UK wine market by drawing on the knowledge of leading experts with strong purchasing influence. 

Our expert panel includes Master Sommeliers and senior buyers at major retailers, fine wine merchants, restaurant groups and private members’ clubs, who will use their considerable experience to advise on how an award-winning wine can gain or improve its commercial position in the UK market. 

A bespoke feedback report will cover crucial elements, including: 

  • A detailed assessment of their wine and its commercial potential from leading UK buyers with purchasing influence
  • Channel strategy and route-to-market recommendations
  • Benchmarking analysis with similar wines already in the UK market
  • A review of the packaging and its channel suitability
  • Quotes attributed to Decanter that can be used in commercial/ promotional materials 

Pierre Mansour, head of buying at The Wine Society, said, ‘The DWWA Buyers’ Report is an excellent initiative by Decanter which brings commercial insight and a UK-based perspective for those wine producers who have nailed quality, through the blind tasting exercise, but are looking for guidance and real-life input in how to crack distribution in one of the best wine markets in the world.’

See more information on the DWWA Buyers’ Report initiative and details on how to enter here.

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