Ξ April 11th, 2011 | → 14 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine History |
The cork industry has made significant gains winning back consumers recently. Let’s rephrase that. It has been less a question of winning back consumers than of an increasing consumer confidence that wines under cork maintain a consistent, faultless quality in the bottle. So are consumers satisfied with cork? Read on.
Of course, TCA remains a real threat, though anecdotally or via scientific assays it shows up at dramatically reduced levels. The proof, as always, is in the bottle. Simply put, after a mountain of bad press the cork stopper industry has suffered in years, the sharp, focussed promotional initiatives by the screw cap industry, and the occasional high-profile defection of a premium winery to screw caps, it has remained an open question whether the consumer market would fall into line. Has the screw cap industry has made significant gains into the imaginations of discriminating wine buyers? When a consumer visits the market or wine shop do they now prefer screw caps over cork? Has the screw cap become the ‘go to’ stopper? It seems this is not the case for premium wines, at least according to the independent A. C. Nielsen findings first published in a little noticed report at the end of February.
In their first annual report, the Cork Quality Council (CQC) has laid their cards on the table. According to A. C. Nielsen’s figures there has been a 14% sales increase of premium wines under cork stoppers and, within the same period, February ‘10 to February ‘11, a 10% sales decline of wines under screw cap and plastic stoppers.
But just what are ‘premium wines’? First of all they are domestic labels. From CQC’s report,
When sales activity is examined by price, it becomes clear that the growth seen by premium wines during the past 12 weeks occur in the price categories over $9.00.
I am not quite sure what to make of the distinction between 12 months, February, ‘10 to February, ‘11, and the report’s 12 weeks ending in February, ‘11, but if overall, the yearly average is trending, then perhaps the 14% increase of premium wine sales under cork was safely extrapolated from the previous 9 months’ sales figures.
— I received a clarification this morning from 100% Cork with respect to the months vs weeks distinction mentioned above. It reads as follows,
“The year-over-year numbers compare case sales during the 12 weeks ended Feb. 5 with the same time period in 2010. In essence, we are comparing outcomes from two quarters a year apart. It’s just that the quarters end on Feb. 5 so we call them 12-week periods. But it’s a standard year-over-year comparison. And the comparison is of the Top 100 wine brands this year to the Top 100 wine brands last year.”
Please see this press release for more details.
But beyond the [resolved] ambiguities of the CQC report, and the press release forthcoming, a larger question has been provisionally answered, in my view. The noisy alternative closure press, particularly the most active, the screw cap industry, has, it appears, been unsuccessful in making inroads into market share of wines priced from $9 to $20. The consumer is not convinced. In fact, alternative closures have lost ground. If the figures hold, the screw cap industry in particular has been unable to persuade the consumer as to the superiority of their closure.
As a veteran of the cork vs alternative closure wars, I welcome the news. Yet many questions remain. For example, I would like to see more research as to why consumers increasingly purchase wines under cork. Is it out of environmental concern? For everybody intuitively knows cork is inherently recyclable, low tech, and green. Is it a matter of indifference? Or is it simply that a greater number of premium wines are under cork than screw cap? I would like to know.
And I must add a caveat. I admire and regularly drink wines from Austria, the majority of which are under screw cap. I would regret a simple-minded cork boosterism to interfere with the sales of what they do so well, which is produce world-class wines under screw cap. I am not familiar with the economics of the wine industry of the country. But I do know Austria is otherwise environmentally aware, perhaps more so than any other nation in Europe.
I have been informed a summation of the Cork Quality Council’s findings will be released very shortly through 100% Cork’s website and that of the Portuguese Cork Association.