Wine Gains Attention and Sales in C-Stores

New products, tweaked merchandising help some c-stores drink up sales

CHICAGO -- Despite the fact that consumers consider c-stores a destination for beer and even spirits, wine isn’t as often on their list—but that is changing.

Based on the tracking of 1,500 wine brands, Chicago-based Technomic Inc. found that off-premise wine grew 2.6% by volume, with table wine up 2.3%. Just-released preliminary numbers for 2013 find total wine at retail up 2.1%.

Superpremium wines costing about $15 and up (in 750-liter bottles) grew 7% in 2012. The most noteworthy performance, though, emanated from fighting varietals ($6.99 to $8.99 per bottle), which grew 23%. “It’s perceived as good wine at an attractive price and represents almost two-fifths of total volume,” says Donna Hood Crecca, senior director for Technomic. Millennials, females and Hispanics were responsible for much of that growth.

If a fighting varietal (a varietal wine of good quality at an everyday price point) was new to the market, chances are its growth was more accelerative. George Ubing, national director of c-stores for E&J Gallo Winery, Modesto, Calif., says 70% of wine revenue growth across all channels in 2012 came via new products. He echoed the power of millennials, who “appreciate new concepts, and typically don’t drink the wine their parents do. Millennials are also time-starved, so c-stores can cater to that 3-minute purchase.”

New merchandising approaches to selling wine could also have an impact. In 2012, Gallo launched its “Refresh” line, a lower-alcohol, slightly effervescent wine style that can be consumed on the rocks, under popular labels such as Turning Leaf and Barefoot.

“Research has told us that people find wine flavorful but perhaps not refreshing,” Ubing says. “ ‘Refresh’ is designed to make wine more approachable to novices. These varieties are slightly effervescent and can be enjoyed on the rocks. We want to say it’s OK to put wine on the rocks—just the right ones.”

A lack of variety in c-stores can also prove problematic. “If a c-store only stocks, say, one Cabernet, and a novice wine drinker tries it and doesn’t like it, you run the risk of losing them for future Cabernet purchases,” says Ubing. “You need to provide a novice wine consumer with other price-point options so they can build up to other types of Cabernets,” he says.

A growing number of c-stores are taking a stab at wine merchandising. Approximately 700 7-Eleven stores nationwide have begun offering ultra-premium selections, increasing their wine stock from about a dozen varieties to 24 to 40 from wineries around the world.

“7-Eleven’s investment has placed this opportunity on the radar screens of more c-store chains,” says Crecca.

A key for c-store retailers is “making customers aware you sell wine, because 55% of people aren’t aware,” says Ubing. “Techniques like banners and employee lapel buttons are both effective.”