Why NOT to buy your wine from the supermarket this Christmas

We all know that the easiest thing to do is to grab a few bottles from the shelf and put them in your shopping basket while cruising through a supermarket aisle.
The immediacy of this experience was tested, as so many other things, earlier this year. The memory of March & April deluge is still. But with the COVID rush, another important question emerged: shop small or shop large?

It’s worth stating that all supermarkets are not the same when it comes to how they select, buy and sell wine. Some, like Waitrose, are better than others and are not so dependent on their own ‘taste the finest’ ranges – they often buy from respectable importers or agents.

But what about the ‘bad stuff’? Wanderlust started in 2016 and Richard, the founder, has always been outspoken to expose the bad practices hidden behind so many misleading labels and adverts. So here are a few reasons why we’re saying ‘buy local, buy small and make a difference’. When it comes to wine, as with everything else, you want to be mindful of where your money goes.


Know where your meat is farmed – and your wine bottled

A lot of wine is shipped in ‘bulk’ – in liquid form (non bottled) in large ships. Whilst shipping wine in bulk cuts carbon emissions it is more often used as a technique to cut costs on mass-made wines. Particularly from the long-haul New World region including Chile, Australia and New Zealand, it is bottled in East London before being labelled and sent off to the supermarket shelves. Not quite the romantic idea we associate of Giuseppe making and bottling wine at his small vineyard in rural Italy. 

Transporting the wine in huge plastic containers, sloshing around as it travels over the equator is a huge risk to the wine because of the severe temperature fluctuations. When we ship on these routes, even when the wine is (protected) in the bottle we ensure they travel in insulated covers to protect the wine. This is why you never find naturally made wines being transported this way, and also why additives and nasties are very common in cheaper wine, stopping it turning into vinegar. Additives poured into the winemaker process include powered tannin, preservatives, citric acid and sugar.  This is a key ethos of the producers we choose to work with – grapes grown and picked in balance don’t need additives. It’s only when you’re managing a factory of grape juice travelling halfway around the world you have to resort to this.

Our tip: check the back of your wine bottle label. If it says ‘bottled in the UK’ it’s a sign it is probably mass-made and shipped in bulk. Drink real wine, bottled at source. Naturally, 100% of our wines are of course bottled at the vineyard.

Pricing games? What pricing games? “But it’s on sale!”

We have been transparent, since day one, that we make a fair margin for the effort we invest to import, store, pick, pack and deliver your wines. It is very standard that all wine retailers make between 15 – 30% before their costs.
So, let’s do the maths.

Some retailers and most supermarkets falsely advertise these stats by marking the wines up and then discounting down. “50% off”: how can it be that the supermarket takes a 50% cut when they make 20 or 30% before VAT? It has been exposed that the RRPs (Recommended retail prices)  reported by retailers are inflated, so that these ‘offers’ can be rotated to provide the impulse response to the coloured label that looks like a great deal! Critic Jamie Goode writes in more detail here if you want to read more.

For example, a bottle is on the shelf for £14.99. A week later the price is offered at a 25% discount for £11.25, and you might even get an extra 5% off if you buy 6 bottles. Consumers think they’re getting a great deal and stock up there and then to take advantage of it.

What’s actually happening here, though, is that wine that should retail at £10 is inflated to £14.99. Therefore at £11.25 the retailer still clears more than what they would normally make. These ‘deals’ are rotated with discounts that bring the cost down on occasion, therefore simulating a ‘bargain’ feel.

Here is a good example from Vivino, who somehow got hold of one of our wines through a French wholesaler and offered a superb deal – 20% off! But wait…

The offer is 20% the RRP of £23.99 down to £18.99. Sounds like a good deal, right? The reason we can easily highlight this is that we sell it on the Wanderlust website under the same terms at full price for £18.33. 

This is a good illustration of the mark-up-to-discount-down that masks the actual real value of the wine. It is well known that you can’t trust in a brand which has higher prices and continually offers sales or discounts to keep dragging you back. This has a knock-on effect on the perception of the wine producers products. “Are they on sale because they are not selling?”

We don’t play pricing games and we don’t pretend that we’re giving you discounts when they’re not real in the first place. That is a core part of our ethos – transparency and keeping it fair and simple.

Our tip: don’t trust supermarket ‘deals’. They are hardly ever genuine. If you do insist on buying supermarket deals, pull out your phone and see if the wine is available elsewhere to check the price validity. Note that 90%+ of supermarket wine is own-label to control and hide the economics behind the ‘offers’.


Support a small business

This year, small businesses across the nation set up online shops to continue to serve customers throughout the UK’s first lockdown. Whilst we and others have always sold direct, our year has been turbulent with our restaurant customers closed or running reduced lists. We will turnover less than 50% in trade sales vs 2019. 

This should paint a picture of why consumer spending choices are now the lifeblood of small businesses. If everyone shopped in Amazon or large supermarkets there would be no small businesses (who employ over 70% of the country’s people). This also goes for the supply chain; small businesses generally buy from smaller suppliers the same way we buy wine from small, organic winemakers; you purchasing from a small wine merchant puts your money indirectly back into these people’s projects and lifeblood.

This point isn’t just about us, it is much bigger than that. So what can you do to help in a COVID-stricken Christmas?

Our tips:

  • For presents, buy gift cards for small businesses that have online shops
  • Spread the word to friends and family. As you know, Wanderlust (like others) runs an awesome refer-a-friend scheme where you earn vouchers back for helping. Sharing social media posts and marketing emails also helps all that little bit.
  • If you have a positive experience, tell them and write a positive review!
  • If there is anything you wished they sold or ways you wished they worked, give constructive and helpful feedback

About, Richard Ellison, Wanderlust Wine

Richard set up Wanderlust Wine with the goal to import and champion small producers, making organically-focused wines. Wanderlust Wine now imports hundreds of wines from pockets of the world, all with their own unique story to tell.