Drinkers are choosing lesser-known grapes and continuing the lockdown trend of spending more to experience quality.
Diners are increasingly trading up on wine as they become more willing to experiment with new varieties and trust operators to deliver interesting experiences, according to new research into purchasing habits. Analysis of sales in some 5,800 premium restaurants, hotels and pubs in the UK during June to November 2020 and April to June 2021 has found that drinkers are ever more willing to try new and diverse wines.
Though the volume of wine drunk in the on-trade remained static compared with 2019, Liberty Wines' Premium On-Trade Report 2021 found that there was an opportunity for operators to achieve improved spend per head, while still offering value for money.
Liberty Wines managing director David Gleave said: "What we've seen post-lockdown is an intensification of the trend that was happening before. People are keen to drink better wines. When you look at some of the stats, the only growth in the on-trade is in the premium sector of the market, even though volumes have remained static. If you give people the opportunity to trade up, either by the bottle or by the glass, they will take it as long as they have your trust."
According to the report, though there has been a 13% decline in premium on-trade volume between 2015 and 2019, the value of sales grew by 17% in the same period, equating to a 33% increase in average bottle price. This trend has continued, and though guests may have visited restaurants less they are far more willing to spend on quality wine.
By spring 2021 spend per bottle was up 11% compared with 2019, as diners celebrated after lockdown. "But what we didn't expect is some people spending more with independent wine merchants during lockdown and then returning to restaurants where they continued this trend of spending more than they had in the past," Gleave added.
"They might also be drinking less, but where they once shared a bottle, they will now buy a couple of glasses for the same cost. Once customers drink more diverse wines, it's difficult for them to go back." The data suggests that sales of Pinot Grigio have overtaken those of Chardonnay as the best-selling white grape variety, while Merlot sales have slumped in favour of the likes of Syrah.
"Pinot Grigio has been strong and we've seen people are drinking more, but there's better Pinot Grigio coming onto the market," Gleave said.
"Restaurants should be aware that the popularity of grapes like Pino Grigio means people are more likely to trade up. Part of the growth of the variety is operators putting more than one option on the list or putting a more expensive Pinot Grigio on the list.
"On the other hand, Merlot used to be a safe bet, but now people are more likely to want to drink indigenous grape varieties. Instead of Merlot from the south of France, drinkers may go for a Syrah or Grenache."
Looking ahead, though guests may be more price-conscious, Gleave is confident that diners will continue to look to a restaurant as an opportunity to experience higher-quality wines.
He said: "There is no doubt that people will be a bit more attentive to price, but if you look at the trend I think the curve will continue to go up. There will still be the tendency for people to want to drink better."
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