Red wines are making quite a splash in the supermarket wine case.
Although white wines remain the perennial sales leaders, reds are gaining favor, especially among the wealthy, better-
educated consumers and wine aficionados. New varieties of
reds, such as merlots and pinot noirs, are driving consumers to the category. And as consumers become more educated about wines, they are more apt to try the more expensive vintages, where reds are the strongest.
Television news reports about red wine being beneficial to the heart and possibly helpful at staving off heart attacks also have been a boon to sales.
"Red wines are hot right now, and there is a whole new customer coming into it," said Duane Smith, wine and beer merchandiser and grocery buyer at Haggen Inc., Bellingham, Wash. "The best thing for the reds was a very powerful segment that '60 Minutes' did. That has helped business a lot." The "60 Minutes" television report detailed how the French eat fat-laden foods, but avoid heart attacks by drinking red wine. The report originally aired in November 1991 and has been rebroadcast several times since.
Retailers said the report gave the entire wine category a boost, since more consumers began drinking wines with dinner. A new study released last summer by the American Chemical Society may do the same for whites. It found white wines release chemical properties that help in the development of HDL, the good form of cholesterol.
But for now, red wines appear to be where the action is.
"Interest in the red wines is steadily creeping up," said Kent Ryan, liquor buyer for Albertson's California stores, Sacramento, Calif.
"For a long time it was white zinfandel, and then chardonnay took over by a few percentage points. The reds as a group are getting more and more popular as the merchandisers are coming in and making it easier to get entry-level drinkers to try them. Merlots are the big ones right now, and that is what a lot of people are getting into. It is at the point where there are shortages of the grapes because they take about five years to grow," he said.
"While most of our stores are still in a white wine market, the reds are coming on strong because of the health aspects," said Howard Hodgson, buyer for beer, wine and direct-store-delivery at Heinen's, Warrensville Heights, Ohio. "It is amazing what a little publicity will do." Hodgson added that Heinen's employs wine stewards in its larger stores to help educate consumers on selecting the proper wine.
"Our reds are increasing, primarily because of the strength of the merlots," said Charlie Owen, director of liquor operations at Balls Food Stores, Kansas City, Kan. "Merlot is driving the category right now in our market, while the chardonnays are driving the whites." Tom Roesner, DSD buyer-merchandiser at Seaway Food Town, Maumee, Ohio, said new varieties are boosting sales of red wine. "The publicity that the reds are getting about being good for the heart has helped sales, but I think the biggest thing that has helped sales is the new varietal wines they are coming out with, such as the pinot noirs and merlots, which are extremely hot right now.
"The varieties of wines that they are coming out with have had a real success story as far as blending the red wines. The white wines are holding their own, but any definite increases are coming from the red varieties," he said.
Retailers surveyed by SN use a variety of display methods to increase their wine sales.
"I stack the wines right by the fresh-cut cheese department, where we have our International Cheeses of the World, a showcase that is about 60 feet long. The customer can get a bottle of wine, some nice cheese, some nice flat bread and a good video," explained Dick Salmon, senior vice president of Melmarkets/Foodtown, Garden City, N.Y., which has been purchased by Stop & Shop Cos., Quincy, Mass.
Salmon deems the cross-merchandising necessary because most New Yorkers still purchase their wines in liquor stores.
"The re-education process of the consumer is necessary. They buy wines in the liquor store [because] they think if they buy wine in a supermarket, either the quality is not there, or the price is too cheap and the quality is not that good," Salmon said.
At K.V. Mart Co., Carson, Calif., wines are grouped by variety, not price or label. "We merchandise the wines by variety in our stores because it makes it easier for the customer to shop a given type of wine, like a merlot, cabernet or chardonnay," said Terry Fowler, director of deli and liquor. "We do all of the chardonnays together, no matter what vineyard or price range they come from." Seaway Food Town finds that merchandising wines by price is a good way to boost sales.
"Our category is relatively flat case-wise, but it is up dollar-wise. I just got done resetting all of our stores, and we took all of our high-ticket varietals and put them at eye level. By doing that we have increased our dollar sales in the double digits," Roesner said.
Other retailers find it best to use a combination of methods.
"We merchandise our wines by both variety and brand," noted Bob Jennings, buyer-merchandising manager for the beverage department at Raley's Supermarkets, West Sacramento, Calif. "We do the popular wine items -- such as Glen Elyn, Kendall Jackson, Sutter Home, Robert W. Woodbridge, by brand. The other high-end items, like Sterling -- are done by variety. "We actually have the best of both worlds. The scale customer is shopping more for variety rather than brand. But if the interim wine drinker tried a Sutter Home white zinfandel, then they may try the Sutter Home chardonnay next," he explained. Jennings said reds are increasing in popularity and now encompass about 30% of his wine sales.
Taste also plays a role in the acceptance of red wine.
"We find that the red wines are growing, but Wisconsin is still a sweet market, so the whites are still dominant," said Greg Gustafson, corporate DSD buyer-merchandiser at Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis.
"We do find that the reds sell better in the winter months because they are heavier and go better with foods that are prepared inside," he added.