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Constellation chicanery came from the top

Constellation bosses have been caught red-handed trying to boost sales of the multi-billion dollar company's wines in a major UK pub chain.

In an astonishingly bald email, senior managers of the company’s European arm beg employees to get down to the pub to buy as much of their wine as possible. It can be claimed on expenses, they promise.

The pub chain, JD Wetherspoon, was running an eight-week trial of certain wines, including Constellation-owned Echo Falls and Nottage Hill Chardonnay and Shiraz. Non-Constellation wines in the trial included Wolf Blass Yellow Label, Blossom Hill and Fetzer Coldwater Creek.

The value of a contract to supply Wetherspoon is reported to be in the region of £80m, although Constellation would not confirm this.

Constellation had already emailed employees and asked them to buy at least one bottle a week, reclaimable on expenses.

There wasn’t enough response to that first note, so in the middle of July, Peter Spencer, senior vice president of Constellation Europe and Steve Thomson, managing director of Matthew Clark, the company’s distribution division, sent a follow-up.

That was leaked yesterday to local newspaper the Bristol Evening Post, by ‘a disgruntled employee’, Post journalist James Cowling said.

In the email, Thomson and Spencer make clear they want to get as much wine bought as possible ‘to ensure that Constellation Europe is awarded this lucrative contract.’

‘Dear Colleague’, it says, ‘Just a short note to update you on the wine trial in JD Wetherspoons. To date we have had a poor response to our invitation to get all employees to visit their local JD Wetherspoons outlet and purchase Nottage Hill Chardonnay & Shiraz (and Echo Falls in the Bristol area) and reclaim via expenses.

‘We would implore each of you to participate in this activity as it is

vitally important that we maximise volumes during the remainder of the trial

period (31st July).’

The email ends, ‘it is key that we pull through every bottle of Constellation wine during this period to see us over the line.’

A spokesman for JD Wetherspoon said, ‘While we are more than happy to serve employees from Matthew Clark in our pubs, we would not wish to be associated with any activities which might influence our decision on choosing the specific wine.’

A senior source at Wetherspoons said it is ‘highly unlikely’ that the Constellation contract will be affected by the scam, but it must be ‘mightily embarassing for them.’

In a statement Constellation says this was ‘a mystery shopper type exercise’.

‘Its primary objective was and remains to achieve our goal to help Constellation Europe and JD Wetherspoon gain greater insight into the on-trade wine category and help achieve the common goal of growing the category by providing the best possible on-trade wine experience.’

A Constellation spokeswoman said the email did not go out to the company’s employees worldwide but would not confirm whether it went to the company’s entire UK staff. She would make no comment on the reaction from the company’s head office in New York, or whether any disciplinary action would be taken.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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