Wine preservation: Beating the bottle

09 August 2013
Wine preservation: Beating the bottle

Wine preservation technology can reduce the cost and wastage of offering wines by the glass and can widen the choice for customers, says Carol Emmas

As guests increasingly demand quality and value for money over quantity, particularly when it comes to wine, a by-the-glass offer can reap rewards. But how is it possible to give greater options without pouring away profits?

One way to appeal to consumers who want premium quality, but might not want to trade up to a bottle, is to use a wine preservation machine to increase the by-the-glass range. These have the potential to significantly reduce wastage, increase profits, and raise a venue's drinks list reputation by offering wine flights and themed or comparative tastings.

Preservation systems do not just prevent waste, they provide an opportunity to upsell to more expensive wines and increase profits.

Gareth Lewis, chief executive of By the Glass, says selling wines by the glass is one of the growth areas in the market. In his view, adding £1 to the price of a 125ml glass of wine is a lot more palatable for the customer than adding £6 to a bottle of wine. The wine preservation system enables the operator to sell more expensive and higher-margin wines rather than the normal house wines because they have longer to sell the opened bottle to customers. Costs are also saved by eliminating over-pouring measures.

Lewis says: "We can show that establishments that use a wine preservation system will see overall wine volume grow by about 13%, the average price per glass sold will increase by about 19%, with an overall sales value increase of about 28%."

Lewis says customers are comfortable with spending money on wine, but only if they know they will like it. "If the potential user can taste a small measure of the wine or even try a glass, they will be a lot more comfortable and confident in buying another glass or even a bottle," he says.

Vintellect founder Clare Young says preservation systems are now an essential tool to prevent out-of-condition wine being served to customers. "Your average consumers are not connoisseurs and, as such, they are unlikely to know whether or not their chosen wine is out of condition," she says. "But if it is, at best they won't order it again and at worst they will vote with their feet."

Sergei Gubars, sommelier at Borough Market's Roast, has used a preservation machine for three years and has seen a good response, but says he now sticks to a benchmark of no more than £20 per glass, having made some mistakes in the first year. "The likes of Château Latour sold well as it gave customers a tasting option they might not ordinarily have," he says. "It was selling up to five bottles a week and making a good margin." But if the wine is not a well-known name, the selling-through process is slower, Gubars adds.

Lucky Adelova, restaurant manager at De Vere Urban Village Hotel Farnborough, has grown sales by offering eight wines by the glass, but he keeps the maximum price at £10. "Although there has been an upturn in higher-priced wine sales, the hotel sees a similar clientele come in and many people already know what they are looking for, so will complain if the prices are too high," he says.

At the other end of the scale, Fulham Wine Rooms uses a machine that allows it to offer 48 wines by the glass, starting at 50ml tasting measures. Manager Manuel Atkinson says: "We have a consistently good offering, for instance we have an £85 Amarone 2008 at £15.50 for a small glass down to entry-level wines. We have a massive food and wine matching focus and plenty of themed wine events; this month it is South African wines, next month Tuscan. There's no way we could offer the range we do without this technology."

But it's not all about how many wines you offer. What is important is the selection, says Enomatic director Matthew Beaton. "It is a well-designed tool for people to use in any way that will improve their particular business and make it move in the direction they want to take it," he says. "Its use is limited only by the dreams of its owner. Perhaps we should put a sign on it that says ‘just add imagination'."

Wine preservation systems

Dom Pérignon by-the-glass system Dom Pérignon has launched its own by-the-glass system that works by purging air from the headspace of the bottle and then repressurising the open bottle to the same pressure and composition of gases that existed before it was opened. The system only works with Dom Pérignon bottles, and will keep the wine fresh for five to seven days.

Wine casks Mountain Edge two-litre wine casks have been launched in the hotel, events and hospitality market, having been developed in conjunction with Wine Intelligence. The wine stays fresh for up to four weeks after opening. The brand's cylindrical format, tin lid and cord carry handle help to distinguish it from standard bag-in-box wine.

By-the-glass system helps to address declining wine sales

Noel Reid, wines and spirits buyer at Frederic Robinson, says he began looking seriously at by-the-glass systems because the pub group's sales of mid-range wines by the glass were falling.

With fewer people ordering quality wine, it could not justify opening bottles for fear of wastage, or serving wines by the glass that might not be in perfect condition.

To increase its wine options, Frederic Robinson has installed two By the Glass units in the Red Lion in Stockport and in the Spinner and Bergamot in Cheshire.

Reid says he has been surprised by the scale of its success. During November and December last year, both sites sold about 120 bottles a month through the units at an average purchase price more than double that of its house pour wines. He now plans to extend the concept.

"Of course, we need to ensure we have the right operators with an appropriate business model," says Reid. "These are expensive systems that need careful consideration before placement. But in the right sites, they are proving to be very effective indeed in delivering customer satisfaction."

Giving guests variety

Responding to the trend of consumers moving away from buying bottles, D&D London purchasing director Paul Jenkins turned to wines by the glass to promote higher sales.

The restaurant group installed 10 Enomatics, and has plans for three more this year. "We wanted to give our consumers good variety across a deeper range and open the wine list to consumers who are eager to experiment," says Jenkins. "The Enomatic machine means we can put higher-value wines in without worrying about wastage. Plus it democratises people's levels of choice."

With smaller measures available, guests can try the more obscure wines and grape varieties before they buy. But the wines will still spoil, so staff still need to sell, particularly with more varieties to push through.

"If there are any downsides to the machines, it is that they are not cheap to install," Jenkins adds. "But as newer versions come onto the market, that will drag the costs down. There is also a learning curve and initially the machines don't eliminate wastage altogether. It's about getting the mix right and putting wines on that you know will sell through in 10-14 days."

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