“…not to innovate is to die” wrote Christopher Freeman is his book of the Economics of Innovation in 1982.
A recent report by a notable agency –CGA Strategy – says that just 25% of consumers who drink wine at casual dining venues rate the quality as very good. This rates a rather lowly 17th out of 18 in drinks categories that it measured. The same research reports that the number of restaurants has grown by 21% and that the group that drinks wine is over 3 times more likely to recommend the restaurant and more persuaded to re-visit it at a later date.
The opportunity to innovate in the hospitality industry is huge. But what do we mean by innovation?
Innovation is a term that can be intimidating, leading us straight to the Apple products and the massive technology developments that in one fail swoop deliver massive added value. However I contend that innovation does not have to be a single massive revolution but as tiny as the way wine is served, a tweek of varietal, the way a list is presented – in fact innovation is an action that added value to the way your business operated which delighted your customer. Further it is a process as opposed to a single event, which is motivated by people.
Seen in this way the opportunity for innovation is huge in any business. No business gets everything right, perfection does not exist. What does exist is the priority of making things better. Which aspects of the business need improvement more than any others – focus on those and end up with a better business.
The figures above suggest that the wine offer in the hospitality industry has a long way to go to get things better for its consumers. It should be a priority for businesses because there are two wins in such initiatives.
- Greater customer satisfaction and referral
- Greater sales and profit
I would propose them to any business in that order. Whilst the background motivation is sales and profit, the greater motivation for staff, management and the rub-off effects on to the other parts of the business lies in delivering the first aspect.
The scope for innovating in wine is huge and especially at this moment in time.
Wine, as a commercial sector, is curiously not led by brands. Brands depending which report you look at constitute less than 10% of the market, and any individual brand less than 5% market share. Most of that measurement is through supermarkets and often misses between 15-25% of the market. So we can only use these figures as guides and trends rather than any hard fact.
The truth of the wine market is that (almost) anything goes. There are wines, which exist for different parts of the market so there are literally thousands of different wines all of which are expressions of some sort or another.
The most ‘out-there’ innovative wine that I have come across recently is Skyfall, a blue sparkling wine produced in the same region as Cava. Naturally blue, it is definitely a quality sparkling wine with a really different approach – watch out for this in the nightclubs and high-end venues.
As an operator then this is an area where you can make it your expression for your outlet. That is fantastic news for selection but beware yourself!
Of course it is easy to choose wines, but which are the right ones and more importantly why? If you are the wine buyer you have to challenge your own assumptions, tastes and opinions. This is the hardest thing to do because it is so personal.
First of all answer the question – how are you going to be objective about the process. Your guiding light is your customer in this regard.
There are over 10,000 grape varieties in the world and around 3,000 that are planted for some commercial purpose. The interest from the UK consumer in different grapes, where they have come from, who produces them and how has never been greater. And as prices increases this trend is set to continue, as we see London and the UK become the ‘catwalk’ of the global wine industry. A ‘mecca’ where producers want to sell, where established brands test different varietals, secure awards and journalist accreditations.
Before we get carried away the importance of including some ‘knowables’ on a list is the baseline. However if the list includes all knowables and nothing even vaguely adventurous, this will not yield the desired returns. For most venues a list with no known items on it (no Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Prosecco) then is not likely to be successful.
However for certain qwerky/high end outlets, there are lists that could contain nothing that is known. These are restaurants where the recommendation of the patron or sommelier is necessary for the customer to navigate it.
The research suggests that there is a lack of confidence in pushing the envelope. Be brave – no mistake with an individual wine selection can cost that much, but what you and your team can learn may be massive – real insight. Innovate in every way that is reasonable bearing in mind your circumstance find different ways to recommend wines, suggest different varietals, try different countries. If you need help call in an expert – they can consult for a day, train staff, source suppliers, sort out pricing – make your stock and selection work for your business.
One thing is for sure if you are not looking for ways to innovate with wine then your wine sales will be dying!
Hospitality & Catering News, Wine & Drinks Editor