Wine Retailing: Do Supermarkets Offer the Best Choice?

What is your view on selling wine in supermarkets?

In the United States, many states (35 to be precise) allow wine to be sold in supermarkets, but many including New York prohibit the sale of wine in grocery stores and supermarkets. Just recently, Governor Paterson proposed changing the law, so that supermarkets could sell wine. However, the proposal did not come to fruition.

What is your view? Is this debate a straightforward yes or no? Or is the situation much more complicated? Supermarkets and grocery stores naturally are in favor of selling wine. After all wine is a natural complement to food. As a consumer, being able to buy wine while you shop for your groceries would be so convenient. Opponents (mainly independent liquor and wine stores), fear that if grocery stores start selling wine, it could drive them out of business, as the big grocery stores could undercut them on prices.

Looking at these two arguments, it would seem a no-brainer that wine should be sold in grocery stores. However, there are trade-offs. Today, in new York, we probably enjoy the greatest choice of wines that one could ever have. Thousands of stores independently choose and buy wines that they feel meet the preferences of their customers.

Many grocery stores, especially the large supermarkets, are chains, and have centralized buying departments. While this enables them to buy at keener prices, it does not always mean that you will get the same choice, Wine producers supplying these supermarkets must by default be of a certain size in order to meet the volume requirements. Today, large retail buyers have to manage their supply-chain logistics more efficiently, which unfortunately can lead to smaller producers being de-listed.

Of course high volume big brands have their place, but so too do smaller, artisan, 'terroir' driven wines.
In many countries around the world supermarkets account for 70-80% of all wine sales. This has given them enormous power when it comes to bargaining with suppliers. This might all sound great when it means that you can buy wine at greatly discounted prices. But the reality is that sometimes supermarkets use wine as a loss leader to drive traffic to the store. While the consumer is reaping the benefit in cheap prices, the suppliers and producers in many cases are being squeezed beyond belief. I sometimes wonder if wine is at risk of becoming just another fast moving consumer good, where provenance does not matter.

That said, there are many large grocery stores and supermarkets such as Trader Joe's and Stew Leonard's that are at the top of their game when it comes to wine choice and service. Likewise there are many wine and liquor stores that are far from exciting in their choice or knowledgeable in their service to customers.

Not an easy debate. I look forward to your views.

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Meanwhile, as spring has finally arrived here are some delicious wines to kick start the good weather.

2007 Clean Slate Riesling, Mosel, Germany $11 - A perfect wine from sipping outdoors or with light dishes or Asian cuisine. Off dry and easy drinking. Fresh and crisp with lots of vibrant peachy fruit and floral notes.

2007 Naia Verdejo, Rueda, Spain $13 - Made 100% from the Verdejo grape. Refreshing and brimming with and zesty, lemon and line aromas and flavors, with hints of white flowers and mineral notes. Drink on its own, or pair with a tasty risotto primavera as we did during the week.

2006 Maravigna Nero d'Avola, Sicily $10 - What a great value wine. Unoaked, it has delicious spicy cherry flavors, blackberries, wild bozenberries and a lovely peppery finish. A perfect partner for pizza or pasta with puttanesca sauce

So until next week, enjoy some great wines.

Mary

(Image: Flickr member rick licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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