A cause for celebrating (or whining about) wine

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

As the unofficial New Zealand ambassador for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (my doctor always advised me to take lots of grapes and liquids, so I do, only mixed), I confess to having a vested interest in the way wine is showcased and sold in the travel retail channel.

From being arguably the poor relation (let’s make that poverty-stricken relation) of the channel, wine’s star has risen in the travel retail galaxy to the point that the category now offers some of the very best examples of merchandising, product selection and store design.

6. JR Duty Free 2

8. JR duty free

When I went through Auckland and Christchurch airports (the latter pictured above), for example, during the Rugby World Cup (won by New Zealand) in 2011, I thought JR/Duty Free’s presentation of local wines was brilliant – great ranging, lovely displays and evocative imagery all to the fore. Nuance Australia, too, does a superb job at Sydney (below) and Melbourne airports, for example, representing the very best that Australia has to offer in wine, including a number of rare or limited bottlings.

Syd 1

syd 2

Gilly-and-Rob

[Top two pictures: Sydney Airport; Bottom picture: Former Melbourne Airport General Manager Retail and Car Parks Gilly Gray with Rob Godino, Senior Store Manager for F1rst Tax and Duty Free, run by The Nuance Group, show me the airport’s wonderful Word of Wine earlier this year]

Similarly, Heinemann Duty Free’s fine wine and cigar concept store at Singapore Changi Airport is a splendid example of how to merchandise and champion a category that has real allure to millions of travellers.

vine_and_leaf_changi_opening_31jan12_1

Traditional wisdom had it that wine didn’t offer sufficient margins to retailers to justify decent floor space.  That theory, of course, depends on what wine – and what price points – you are offering. There’s plenty of margin in First Growth Bordeaux from great vintages, for example; or outstanding and rare New World wines from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

michael_schriver_250

A few weeks back I toured the revamped DFS Group stores at Hong Kong International Airport with Chief Operating Officer Michael Schriver (above), himself an aficionado of fine wine. The DFS offer is simply outstanding, not just in terms of the great Bordeauxs and Burgundies of France but also just about the whole Old World (with Spain a notable absentee) & New World spectrum.

There’s a temperature-controlled walk-in cellar featuring ultra-premium labels and even a free tasting dispenser (what a great idea). Michael and I nosed (it was early in the day) a HK$1,200 (US$155) French wine that was being sampled for free. No wonder their conversion rate is so high.

free_wine_tasting

I watched in amazement as a whole (extended) family of Mainland Chinese travellers entered the liquor store and headed straight to the walk-in cellar. They knew, I suspect, exactly what they were searching for and I don’t think (with full respect for a perfectly decent quaffing wine) it was Mateus Rose. My time was limited so I never did get to see what they spent but you can bet your bottom dollar that it raised DFS’s hugely impressive US$90 average transaction value on wine (only US$10 less than the average spirits purchase).

As did I. Just to prove I put my money where my mouth – and palate – is, I bought a bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage 2008 the next day as a present for a friend’s forthcoming 50th birthday at a lofty (but fair) price point. That wine then travelled with me to Taipei, back to Hong Kong, on to Munich, across to London, over to Miami, back across to Madrid, and finally down to Malaga. I only hope the birthday boy allowed it to settle…

Munich Lufthansa Lounge Munich (2)

But it’s not all good news. As mentioned, post-Hong Kong I stopped in Munich, a lovely modern airport offering a vast and generally impressive range of shopping and dining opportunities. Arriving in the early morning before the stores were open, I headed straight for the Lufthansa lounge, a tidy but clinical, soulless place, about as welcoming as a dentist’s waiting room when you’re awaiting a root canal.

Munich wine

Although it was way, way too early for a tipple, I could not help but be drawn to the sign by the wines on offer (pictured) proclaiming “I’m passionate about wine”, written by Markus Del Monego, World Champion Sommelier, who despite the distinctly un-Germanic name did indeed hail from Germany. But here’s the thing. What were the wines he was recommending? A perfectly decent Cavit Norico Rosso from Italy and the well-rated Oceanus Cabernet Sauvignon from Portugal, and a Colombelle white from Gascogny, France.

Excuse me? In the Lufthansa lounge, where millions of travellers relax every year, you showcase the wines of Italy, Portugal and ye gods, France? No, no and nein. Lufthansa should be championing (shouting from the rooftops, in fact) the virtues of Germany’s great, great wines (they are probably the most misunderstood in the whole wine world and therefore to see such a wasted opportunity to educate consumers about their virtues would be enough to make a grown German winemaker cry).

I’m sorry Herr Del Monego, but these are not the right choices to reflect your declared passion for wine. How about offering one of the many lovely Franken Weins from Bavaria instead, absolute gems unknown to most wine drinkers in the world?

But there was worse to come. At Wiener’s, an attractive looking food & beverage outlet, a beautifully written blackboard sign was proclaiming the three wines of the day. All from Bavaria, right? Or at least Germany? No, from Italy (though to be fair there were some good German wines on the wine list).

Munich FAND B wines

Munich Fand B wine list

And then to the Eurotrade Travel Value & Duty Free Shop, a tidy if uninspiring store. But the wine offer was simply not good enough. From the 16 shelves (pictured below) I counted of wine (excluding Champagne), four carried German wines, led by Blue Nun on the top shelf. And look at the presentation. Let’s not forget that Germany is one of the great wine-producing countries of the world.

munich travel value

Munich wine range (2)

Munich wine (2)

The other 12 shelves carried wines from a variety of countries, including France, Austria and Italy. There were plenty of facings for Champagne while a Martini Prosecco unit stood like a lonely orphan, sadly bereft in the middle of the shop floor. Prosecco. That’s right. From Italy.

Munich martini (2)

What about the great sparkling wines from Germany? Nowhere to be seen. Surely a case for a sekts shop if ever I saw one.

I just think our industry can be better than that. We often complain that not enough travellers buy. But surely you have to do more to tempt them in the first place. We often complain that our airports lack a Sense of Place. But when you don’t champion local, regional or national products, what chance have you got?

DFS succeeds in selling high-price wine at Hong Kong because it offers a great selection, knowledgeable staff, innovation aplenty (a la the wine dispensers) and because it believes in the category. So do JR/Duty Free and Nuance Australia (and several others such as Aelia and ADP in Paris and Aldeasa/World Duty Free Group in Spain). Sky Connection also used to do a great job at Hong Kong International Airport.

Others, quite simply, don’t. I remember many years ago flying Air New Zealand from London to Auckland and the only wines they served onboard were Australian. If I’d wanted to taste those (excellent) wines I would have flown Qantas. I was aghast.

I am delighted to say that these days Air New Zealand takes its responsibilities to the local wine industry seriously and offers a delightful range of Kiwi wines. Every airport wines & spirits store in the world based in a wine-producing country has a similar responsibility to its producers.

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  • Hi Martin
    And don’t forget our tribute to Central Otago Pinot Noir in the new Aelia Duty Free Store in Queenstown. We gave a feature back-wall bay to 4 local wineries (Mount Difficulty, Gibbston Valley, Wooing Tree and Chard Farm), plus a dedicated wine tasting fixture which the vendors take in turn. Great product and responding well to the exposure.
    Cheers
    Ivo

  • I have always been and continue to be an avid follower of your blog / report since first discovering it when I worked on BAA travel retail and World Duty free (agency side) in 2006. I agree emphatically with what you have observed and written in this blog – it is so important as a nation to get behind your products and do a bit of shameless chest beating (especially in this present economic state where one tends (and should) look closer to home.

    However, from a creative and navigational perspective your reference to the JR / Duty Free’s stand is not a good example. It is all well and good that one pushes their home grown products (and as I said I support this), however if the shopper is unable to immediately distinguish the different varieties of grape and have a smooth and enjoyable experience then this shopper journey can be an awful one. Besides, there is so much information about wine and to avoid any confusion lets assist this shopper.

    In respect, Nuance Australia have this sown up and have marked out their zones clearly – if not lacking a bit of design flair and beautifully shot imagery as seen in the JR / Duty Free example. Melbourne has it all – brilliant.