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Specialist wine retailers ‘thriving’ in UK, says study

Independent wine shops have enjoyed a resurgence in the UK in the past few years, according to a new study, suggesting more consumers are willing to avoid supermarket aisles.

The shop front at Roberson, which won a Decanter Wine Retailer of the Year award for California wines earlier this month.

There has been a 50% increase in the number of specialist wine shops in the UK since 2007, up to around 750 stores, shows a new study published jointly by Wine Intelligence and trade magazine The Wine Merchant. The sector is now worth almost £500m in annual wine sales.

Larger retailers, such as Majestic and Oddbins, were excluded from the data to provide a clearer picture of how the independent sector has fared overall, researchers said.

Supermarkets still account for the bulk of wine sales in the UK, but the study suggests a growing minority of wine lovers are willing to look for alternatives.

‘There’s no doubt that some of the independents are marginal; lifestyle businesses, if you like,’ said Graham Holter, founder of The Wine Merchant, which is only sent to specialist wine retailers. ‘Yet over the past five years there has been a net increase in numbers in every month except one, in the height of the recession. There are always more stores opening than closing,’ he told Decanter.com.

Of 1,001 wine drinkers surveyed by Wine Intelligence, 17% of men and one in ten women said they ‘sometimes’ buy wines from independent specialists.

But, another one in ten women said they felt too intimidated to step inside a specialist wine shop, and so preferred buying from supermarkets.

Holter said many independents have broadened their offering by doubling up as bistros or wine schools. Some even offer live music and film screenings. ‘You can’t simply be a wine shop – a kind of Oddbins 2.0 – to survive,’ he said.

‘More and more wine drinkers are realising that in many cases independents offer far better value for money [than supermarkets],’ he added.

But, the UK remains a difficult place for wine retailers to make money. It is accepted within the trade that wine commands store space in supermarkets that is often beyond the category’s profits potential, because it pulls in shoppers.

Retailer Majestic said this week that net profits fell by 11% for the first half of its current financial year, to £6.4m. But, net sales increased by 2.7% on the same period of last year, to nearly £133.8m, with average spend per bottle up to £8.02 versus £7.71 in 2013.

Several specialist retailers were among the winners in this year’s Decanter Retailer of the Year Awards. See the winners here.

Written by Chris Mercer

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