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On Tasting
Morrisons - Never Fail Method for Buying Wine
Tuesday, 9th July, 2013  - David Farmer

I watch the liquor battle between the top six supermarket chains in the U.K. with great interest. It is hard to nudge ahead but that is the game they play with ferocious intensity as they tweak their offers.

Of the three categories of liquor; beer, wines and spirits, it is difficult with beers and spirits to develop a strategy that shows your difference. The number of global spirit suppliers is limited and likewise the volume beer brands that consumers want. Some success can be had with exclusive 'house brands' but the new entrepreneurial brands that create excitement are not going to be developed by supermarkets.

With wine it is a different matter as this global industry is very fragmented, and I'll take a stab and say there are 1,000 companies that are big enough to supply a supermarket chain. Add back in numerous smaller wineries and it is possible to stock many wines that others do not have, plus it is relatively easy to develop a wide range of 'house brands'.

More importantly the wine business is riddled with pricing anomalies in terms of measuring what a wine is worth, both from the view point of the supermarket buyer and the customer. Thus it may be possible for a supermarket to claim, for example, that their Champagne has been shown by independent assessors to be better while also being cheaper.

So the battle is mostly fought on the range of wines being offered. This though is not as simple as I have made it seem. These supermarket chains are very big and the size of the wine orders will reflect this. This creates a quality control issue and for a winery to supply a consistent product year after year is extremely hard.

So we return to square one as only the very big companies with global brands can do this and they will not favour one chain over another. Meaning if supermarkets are all buying for the same price and charging customers about the same there is no advantage at all.

So what else can be done to express your uniqueness? Well wine is a complex beverage and surveys suggest that consumers love this aspect but it also terrifies them. Morrisons supermarkets has taken the approach that they will take the 'terror' out of buying wine and by so doing will gain more customers and sales.

Consumers like sweet, fresh, smooth or intense

They have arranged the wines in the supermarkets by the taste profile or style, not by the usual method of country of origin, brand, and price or a mix of these.

Morrisons say research shows that wine preferences can be divided into four styles; sweet, fresh, smooth and intense and large hanging signs in-store direct you to each of the four categories.

As well you can do a quick test to confirm, or is that remind you, which of the four categories you fall into. You answer three simple questions each with 5 options.

1. What is your favourite hot drink? These range from tea with milk and sugar to black coffee.

2. Do you prefer no added sugar or regular soft drinks?

3. Do you like salt?

From this you get a score:

0-3 you like sweet wines,
4-6 you like fresh wines and this category includes the French Champagnes,
7-9 you like smooth wines,
10-12 you like intense wines.

At this stage readers may like to go to Do the Waitrose Taste Test as I wrote about this in February, 2012 when a rival supermarket chain was championing the idea. It would seem the wine group Bibendum is flogging this concept to supermarkets.

Predictably Morrisons explain wine as; "In wine there are no rights and wrongs. It's just a case of like and dislike." So all you have to do is take the test, find out what you like, wander down the correctly marked aisle and buy with comfort, knowing you will get a winner every time.

It did not take more than a minute to crack the test code; so this is how you must answer the three questions, 'you love black coffee', 'no added sugar in soft drinks' and 'rarely use salt'. This will give you the highest possible score of 12 which places you in the 'intense' category. I say this because apart from French Champagnes which are under 'fresh' all of the best wines are listed under 'intense'.

Indeed the four categories, again I note the exception of Champagne, are really just price groupings. The poor slobs scoring 1 move to the aisle where the cheap, sweet stuff sits and as you advance to 12 your status improves which allows you to plonk down £100 for a decent red. At the half way mark of 6 you can reach out and grab a wine called, 'A Mighty Murray Red' so I suggest you advance to 10+ quickly.

This idea that wine can be chopped up into simple parts is actually quite widespread and believed by many and is summed up by statements like; 'I don't know much about wine but I know what I like' and ' In wine there are no rights and wrongs. It's just a case of like and dislike'.

If only it was that simple but then again who wants it to be simple.

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