BELLEVUE, Wash. -- Free wine tastings and newsletters are the norm. But retailers are also uncorking a potentially more profitable form of wine marketing: fee-based programs that provide exclusive discounts and even deliveries to the home or office.
Larry's Markets here charges $40 for a one-year membership in the Larry's Markets' Epicurean Association. Members get 15% off individual wines, 10% off sealed cases, 10% off Peet's fresh coffee and whole beans sold at Larry's, 20% off select hotels, priority notice on new wine releases and invitations to exclusive wine events.
"Larry's Markets is giving you a reason to raise your glass," Larry's promotional materials read. Store officials were unavailable for comment.
Lund Food Holdings, Edina, Minn., launched its Lunds & Byerly's Wine Club in July at its one Lunds Wine Market and six Byerly's Wines & Spirits locations. The club has about 100 members, and another 150 are expected to join by the end of the year.
For an annual fee of $75 to $125, depending on whether one or two people join, members get 15% off wine purchases, 10% off liquor, a free Riedel crystal goblet, and coupons to use in Lunds and Byerly's supermarkets. Membership fees drop to $50 and $75 in subsequent years.
Other benefits include advanced e-mail notices of special promotions, savings on direct imports, and priority seating for and discounts on Lunds' popular "Winemaker Dinners." These events, which typically cost $85 to $100 a person, feature winery owners and operators as the guests of honor, said Bill Belkin, Lund's wine and spirits category manager.
The upscale Connoisseur's Wine Club at Big Y's Table & Vine division, operator of two wine, liquor and fine food stores in Northampton and West Springfield, Mass., provides home or office delivery of six international wines every other month for one year. The cost is $95 per shipment.
Each delivery includes three bottles of white and three bottles of red, chosen by Table & Vine's buyers. Due to wine-marketing restrictions, deliveries are limited to Massachusetts.
Members also receive special discounts, invitations to exclusive in-store events, and entertaining and food-pairing suggestions.
Fee-based wine services like these are a valuable consumer service in that they help to demystify wine and spur wine consumption, said Tom Pirko, president of BevMark, a Santa Ynez, Calif.-based consulting firm.
But Pirko questions whether they will generate significant revenue, saying only a small group of consumers may be willing to pay for wine services.
The purpose of the membership fee is to encourage consumers to do their wine and food shopping at Byerly's and Lunds rather than at a competing store, Belkin said. Lunds also gets consumer data, including e-mail addresses, that can be used for marketing purposes. "We're not after the $75; we're after their business," Belkin told SN.
"We hope to gain a proprietary claim on the customer," said Paul Provost, general manager of Table & Vine.
Provost declined to discuss membership, saying only that the program has helped build business by attracting new customers and spurring case sales of featured wines.