19 October 2011

Thinking Paper #164: Will anyone shop at the new Oddbins?

By Tim Massingberd James

Abstract

Oddbins has a new owner, but still none of their wines seem to be half price, or less than £4.99. The IIPBA likes a drink, and doesn't everyone, but can the age of austerity be reconciled with buying more expensive wines without - horror of horrors - reducing intake.


Will anyone shop at the new Oddbins?

The IIPBA's thoughts on politicians and drink are well documented, and we were heartened to hear some fine stories about Winston Churchill on the Today Programme this morning. Churchill had a very sensible approach to alcohol, and one legend tells of an advisor to President Roosevelt finding him enjoying a bottle of wine for breakfast in 1943. Churchill justified this by telling him he "had a profound distaste on the one hand for skimmed milk, and no deep-rooted prejudice about wine, and that he had recounciled the conflict in favor of the latter.".

But without the time, money and aristocratic wealth to browse for wines in a wine-specific shop, most of the IIPBA board find ourselves grabbing a couple of bottles of red from the half price shelf at our local supermarket, and drinking them later in the week. We, sadly, don't have the time or money for a leisurely stroll to Oddbins in the village. However, some wine shops are thriving. They're usually the type that hosts free tastings for the wealthy, and get them signed up to buy four cases of ethically-sourced Rioja at the end of the night.

The IIPBA thinks the new owners would do well to go down this route, especially if they can find enough passionate drinkers to staff their stores. We are told that Oddbins and 37 of its stores have been bought for an undisclosed sum by EFB Group, the wine firm owned by multi-millionaire investor Raj Chatha. We hope Raj considers this option, and not the pile-em-high-sell-em-cheap route of the likes of Bargain Booze. We also wouldn't mind if he got some ales in. Thanks Raj.

Conclusion

A new spokesman for Oddbins told the BBC "Yes we want to return to the glory days, the Oddbins brand has a lot of much loved heritage, but we will also be making it relevant to now", which doesn't mean anything.

However, she went on to say "What excites me most as a buyer, is finding gems that we can sell for say six or seven pounds a bottle", which does actually mean something. Wine is going to be six or seven pounds minimum. If lots of it is that price, the IIPBA thinks it'll be ok. If they do one at that price and the others at £40 they'll need some free tasting to get us in the door.

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