Saturday, March 22, 2008

In Vino Veritas: No Whining About This 'Parker-Point' Rating for a Fresh & Easy Proprietary Spanish Wine

the Wine Advocate publication has given one of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's exclusive or proprietary wines 90 "Parker Points," the self-named wine rating scale created by Robert Parker, who's arguably the most influential wine expert in the world. A perfect Parker score would by 100 points, which is seldom if ever given.

The wine in question is a Spanish wine called Reflexion Reserva Rioja (often just called Rioja). It's a 2003 vintage from the Bodegas Palacio region. Fresh & Easy grocery stores sell the wine for $9.99 a bottle.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market chose the Spanish wine, along with 60 other exclusive or proprietary wines, to launch in its stores when the small-format combined basic grocery and fresh and specialty foods (and beverages) markets opened last November, according to wine buyer Karen Fletcher. Fletcher says she and Fresh & Easy are working hard to find and bring shoppers new, exciting and affordable wines from throughout the globe. The stores currently merchandise about 100 brands of wines, according to Ms. Fletcher.

Tesco, the United Kingdom-based parent company of Fresh & Easy, is noted in the UK and around the world for its wine buying expertise. It's one of that country's largest, and in the opinion of many experts, finest wine retailers. It's buyers were one of the first in the world to popularize Australian wines for example. Tesco also is one of the world's highest-volume sellers of quality wines which allows the retailer to obtain favorable prices from vintners and wine brokers throughout the world.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market would be smart to tap into as much of that corporate expertise and buying power as it can for its 10,000 square foot convenience-oriented grocery markets in the U.S. Developing the Fresh & Easy stores into a well-known retail brand, where consumers can find unique, high-quality yet reasonably-priced wines, could be one way for the grocer to get more customers into its stores' doors.

After all, small-format specialty grocer Trader Joe's generated lots of new customer trail when it introduced its proprietary line of high-quality Charles Shaw brand $1.99 a bottle wines which usually are referred to as "Two Buck Chuck," for example. The wines have strong brand equity and lots of repeat sales.

Seven of Fresh & Easy's proprietary wines recently won awards (two silver and five bronze medals) at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, which is the largest judging of American wines in the U.S., and at the California State Fair Wine Competition, which is viewed internationally as one of the world's premiere wine competitions. [Read our March 4 piece about both of these wine competitions and Fresh & Easy's wines here.]

For those not aware, Mr. Parker's high-point ratings can be a source of soaring wine sales for a brand and variety of wine. However, when Mr. Parker pans a wine, his opinion often has the opposite effect, at times serving as the catalyst for the wine's being sold to the salvage wine retail merchants of the world, where it's then discounted by 50% for clearance at retail. Mr. Parker can 'giveth,' but Mr. Parker also can 'taketh' away, is always a prudent stance in wine marketing.

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