Seasoned retail wine buyer, Mark Norrish gives a consumer perspective to quality associations to wine and packaging.
“Wine producers need to think like consumers.” For Mark Norrish, wine buyer and general manager of the wine division at Ultra Liquors, this principle has been working extremely well for the past two decades. For the Secret Cellar range, he convinced producers to sell their wines under a retail label carrying only the description of the wine – and persuaded customers to buy these no-name wine ranges. As no estate of origin was mentioned, how did Norrish get consumers to take this leap of faith? With the guarantee that there was a high quality, well respected brand in every bottle. Successful sales come, Norrish says, from being in the shoes of customers and knowing what goes through their heads as they stand in front of a wine rack.
Sandile Mkhwanazi: Ultra Liquors has a national footprint in outlets, what has been your biggest challenge regarding packaging in your wine portfolio?
Mark Norrish: The biggest challenge has been producers who don’t think like the consumer. What would make them choose your product over the others? Price point, product portfolio, consumer segment, shelf appeal backed by reputation? These are but a few of the challenges that producers should be aware of.
SM: Do consumers associate quality with a certain packaging, for example, bag-in-box (BiB) versus bottle, screw cap versus cork?
MN: Consumers have the perception that if the wine is BiB, it is low quality. That is not entirely true, the quality in BiB has increased dramatically, hence its boom in market share. The cork versus screw cap debate has been going on for a while and there are wines out there in screw cap that are as exceptional as those in cork. Consumers love a bargain, but the quality of the product must back it up. I personally taste all the wines we have in store and I guarantee a quality product. If customers are unhappy, they are welcome to bring the wine back to the store for a full refund.
Consumer preferences are the key. You have a range of consumers, from environmentally conscious to those who just need a decent wine and don’t care about the packaging. Stock-keeping units should cater for consumers from all walks of life.
SM: Is there a lot of wine “sloshing” around in cellars as per Robert Joseph’s article “Overflow Solutions”?
MN: When he interviewed me, it was during the 2014 season and we’d had a bumper harvest, so yes, there was some wine around. Wine volume is harvest-determined and to suddenly have a couple of entrepreneurs starting their own labels because of a rich crop would lead to unsustainable wine labels. What if the 2016 harvest yields less due to the drought? What will then happen to those brands? Where will they get grapes, let alone wine?
Sustainability is important and the consumer needs a guarantee of a quality product being available year after year.
SM: In-house marketing, does that contribute to sales and awareness for retailers?
MN: This is a great concept, but it needs to be monitored closely. You don’t want ‘pushy’ marketing, as it will scare consumers away, but rather an approach that will engage the consumer and create product awareness. Consumers enjoy a free drink as they walk through the shop, but a certain level of discipline must be maintained.
SM: A customer walks into your shop, what are the three things they should be looking for?
MN: 1) Our seasonal catalogue with great prices. Sometimes all it takes is reading to get a special wine at a very good price. 2) In-house promotions. They give you a chance to engage with producers and get to know more about their products. 3) Bargains. There is always a bargain; you just need to be aware.