Survey Partner 2022

Optimism hits a four-year high, but indies warn of ‘perfect storm’

Almost a quarter of respondents say they are very optimistic about a achieving a sales increase in the coming year, with just under half saying they are fairly optimistic.

 

Sales boom continues for indies

Almost seven out of 10 merchants say their sales have increased, and the revenue mix is broader than it used to be

 

Independents now achieve just half of their revenue from walk-in trade, a figure that has dropped from 62% three years ago.

It’s no big surprise to see local deliveries falling away in 2021, with lockdown less of a fact of life than it was in 2020. But they still account for 12% of trade, and are now almost as important to indies as wholesale business (which recovered to 14%, compared to just 9% last time). Despite this uplift, created as the on-trade gradually opened its doors, wholesaling remains a channel that is in long-term decline for independents.

Of course, it’s not just restaurants and bars that reopened. Drink-in sales for wine merchants showed some recovery too, claiming 9% of total revenue. It will be interesting to see if this channel reaches 2019’s high-water mark of 12.5% in next year’s survey.

Online sales, meanwhile, dipped slightly to 11%, from last year’s lockdown-fuelled record of 13.8%.

Wine still dominates the sales mix, but not as much as it used to

 

Naturally, wine dominates the sales mix of independent wine merchants, but our survey shows that almost £3 of every £10 that goes through the tills is actually spent on other products.

In fact the data shows that wine’s dominance has been dented – very slightly – by a stronger showing for spirits, and there has also been a surge in food sales. This perhaps reflects retailers’ renewed enthusiasm for deli items, following the lockdowns of the previous year, and for impulse confectionery which would have been a tougher sell in much of 2020.

Beer’s less-than-stellar performance could be a sign that the craft boom has peaked – or maybe it’s simply a blip.

Last year saw a big increase in the average price of a bottle of still wine in indies, from £13.69 to £15.10. Across the off-trade as a whole, a channel dominated by supermarkets, the figure is £6.35.

Are customers spending more as they stay away from restaurants, or does this simply represent price inflation? No doubt both these trends have had an impact.

Transaction values have dipped markedly, but this is probably no surprise given that in 2020, a year characterised by Covid restrictions and furlough, many consumers were buying more per transaction. (Bear in mind that the 2022 survey data refers to 2021 sales, and 2021 to 2020 sales, and so on.)

Retail margins once again hold steady at just under 35%, and it’s interesting to note that online margins are edging closer to that figure, at just over 33%. Wholesale margins are static at around 21%, while drink-in margins fall for the second year, to 56%.

Enthusiasm for Portugal – but don’t forget about France

 

By some distance, Portugal is the most exciting wine-producing country at the moment, with almost six in every 10 survey respondents listing it among the nations whose wines they find most interesting.

Yet as our second chart illustrates, enthusiasm for a country doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. Portugal has to settle for joint ninth position when we analyse which countries or regions are making the biggest contribution towards indies’ turnover.

Italy could perhaps be considered the strongest performer in our 2022 survey, finishing third in the “most interesting” poll and topping the sales chart. But there are also strong showings from Spain and South Africa.

The elephant in the room is France, which would finish first in both charts had we not opted to break it down into its most important constituent regions (as well as giving respondents the option to vote for “most or all” of its regions as a single choice).

There is no comparative data from previous years, because in 2022 the two questions were subtly changed.

Until now, respondents have been asked to predict which countries or regions were expected to achieve the biggest sales increases in their business (in 2021, these were South Africa, Italy and Spain, in that order).

And instead of asking which countries merchants found most interesting, we’ve traditionally asked which countries they specialise in. Last year Italy topped the poll, followed by France and Spain.

Aiming to be cleaner and greener

 

Nine out of 10 indies are expanding their ranges of organic wines, according to our survey – and biodynamic wines are not far behind.

Even so-called natural wines – sometimes derided as an uncommercial niche by sceptics – are seeing growth in about half of the independent trade.

These developments appear to be driven, at least in part, by consumer demand rather than retailer ideology. Almost six in 10 indies say their customers are asking for products with

But merchants deserve some of the credit for this greener sales mix. Almost two thirds of respondents say they are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint, with many involved in

But four in 10 respondents admit they can’t be sure how sustainable or otherwise the global wine industry is.

All types of tastings have their fans – and detractors

 

What types of trade tastings are indies keen on? The short answer is pretty much all of them.

Our survey shows that more than half of merchants are enthusiastic about single-supplier tastings in or outside London, and even more so about events that feature a group of like-minded suppliers.

Zoom tastings divide opinion a little more. While 54% say they are keen on single-supplier online events, the figure drops to 41% for Zooms that feature a range of different suppliers.

Some indies have simply got out of the habit of attending tastings in person, and aren’t keen to return to the days when the time and expense of travelling to events were considered part of normal working life.

Indies name Boutinot best supplier out of a field of 121

 

Once again Boutinot has emerged as the supplier that independents most like working with. The company has topped the popularity poll ever since the first Wine Merchant survey took place in 2013 and secures a comfortable win once again this time.

But its lead was cut just a little thanks to some strong performances from its nearest rivals. Liberty Wines consolidates its familiar second-place berth with a similar share of the vote to the 2021 poll, while Hatch Mansfield and Alliance Wine squeeze the gap with improved performances which help them claim third and fourth spots respectively.

Congratulations are due to Marta Vine and Condor Wines, two of the smaller suppliers in terms of personnel and resources, but which are now established members of what might be regarded as the premier league.

There were also impressive showings from Vindependents and North South Wines, the biggest climbers within the top 20, both up six places from a year ago. The highest new entries come from Daniel Lambert, Berkmann and Hayward Bros.

Our respondents were not prompted and collectively nominated 121 suppliers. A maximum of three votes was allowed, based on any criteria.



Satisfaction with suppliers remains high, at 77% – a figure only bettered by last year’s 79%.

But almost one in 10 indies say they are unhappy, at least to some degree, with the support they get from suppliers.

There’s a perception – and it’s shared by four out of 10 independent merchants – that suppliers give priority to their on-trade accounts, with retail customers playing second fiddle.

But there’s also an appreciation that times have been tough for suppliers since the arrival of Covid, and almost eight out of 10 indies say their relationships with reps has been good throughout the pandemic.

Four out of 10 indies say they will increase the number of suppliers they will deal with this year, a slight increase on the figure we recorded in our 2021 survey.

E-commerce looks here to stay for indies, though sales are lower

 

More independents than ever before now have the ability to sell online.

For once, our survey data is a little ambiguous on the exact figure. In our question about digital engagement, 72.7% say they have an e-commerce-friendly website. In the chart below, covering “extra services and activities”, the number emerges as 68%. We can account for this through the slightly different numbers of respondents to the two questions, and surmise that the true figure is probably somewhere in between, at 70% or thereabouts, up from 67% in our 2021 survey.

Online revenue has dipped to 11% from 13.8% as consumer buying snaps back into more normal patterns.

Yet this should not give indies undue cause for concern. Until Covid came along, online sales only ever accounted for around 5% of revenue in the independent trade: it was a glaring area of underperformance in every Wine Merchant reader survey. Now, at last, e-commerce is making a much more respectable contribution to overall turnover, and our data shows that plenty more indies are about to join the fun.

The percentage of merchants with wine dispensing machines has slipped from 14% to 12%, according to the survey, though the proportion offering draught wine has increased from 9% to 10%.

There has also been a slight rise in the number of indies selling food for consumption on the premises, up to 28% from 25% last time. This is in line with pre-pandemic levels and may simply be a readjustment rather than a sign of things to come.

In last year’s survey, for the first time, we asked merchants about the online tastings that they run for their customers – using Zoom or Facebook Live, for example. We found that 27% of respondents were already involved in this kind of activity, but in the 2022 survey the number slips to 23%, and the proportion of indies saying it’s unlikely to happen or definitely not happening leaps from 25% to 45%.

Hybrid model loses some of its momentum

 

The trend towards selling drinks for consumption on the premises in wine shops – adopting what is often referred to as “the hybrid model” – has perhaps been given more airtime than any other recent development in the independent trade.

Over the years, our survey has tried to quantify just how many indies are actually going this route. Back in 2014, a quarter of all independent merchants had the wherewithal to offer alcohol for on-site consumption. In 2016 and 2017, the number was only marginally higher.

Then we started going through the gears. Our 2018 survey hit a figure of 36%, followed by 37% in 2019, 40% in 2020 and 47% in 2021. (Our question stressed that we were talking about “normal circumstances”, making Covid less of a factor than it was in reality.)

Now, in 2022, we see the figure shrink back to just under 43%. As always, the data includes the indies who are considering calling time on their on-premise offer.

Will hybrids ever account for the majority of indies, as some predict? It’s still possible, but the loss of momentum is remarkable.

Direct imports bounce back, despite the hassle

 

The proportion of wines imported by independent merchants under their own steam is back to its familiar level of 18%, after the dip reported in last year’s survey. That figure could rise even higher, though many retailers are very happy to let suppliers take the strain.

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