Inflation, sustainability and exciting wines - Interview, Pierre Mansour, director of wine, The Wine Society

After joining the buying team in 2003, Pierre Mansour is now the director of wine for The Wine Society. And as both ethical consumerism and the cost-of-living crisis remain at the fore, he tells Drinks Retailing how the company plans to expand its low/no range, offer value, and go carbon neutral by 2024. 

At The Wine Society’s press tasting today, Mansour notes both Greece and Portugal as stand out regions for a new generation of red wines.

“There's just so much going on in Greece, particularly around the Xinomavro grape variety, which makes fantastic red wines,” he says. “We’ve also seen real interest in Portugal, which makes some really great value wines.” 

Looking beyond Greece and Portugal, Mansour has noticed an increase in reds made with minimal intervention.

“There is a trend in red winemaking or red wine styles that we're seeing across the world - we’re calling them ‘new wave reds’,” he says. 

“The winemaking process almost steps back - instead it's all about the freshness and clarity of the fruit. We're seeing this style being adapted to different grape varieties, whether it's Grenache in Spain, or Shiraz in Australia.”

Turning back to the UK, English sparkling is enjoying success, with Mansour describing the quality to be on par with Champagne. 

“There's unbelievable demand for those sparkling wines. Champagne perhaps has more finesse but as Brits, we should be proud to be buying English sparkling wine because it is world class.”

Inflation and recession 

Despite the thriving English sparkling market, the cost-of-living crisis is taking its toll on both UK retailers and consumers. 

“We've looked back at what happened in the most recent recession in 2008. And actually, then we did see a little bit of trading down. However, the 2008 recession is very different from the recession that we're probably about to go into now, because inflation is so high at the moment.”

As part of its member-owned business model, The Wine Society regularly surveys its members. As a result, Mansour has found that customers are opting for a quality over quantity approach to shopping in light of economic difficulties. 

“Our members are telling us that they are drinking a little bit less and staying in a bit more,” he says, adding: “but to compensate for that, they say they’re going to spend more on higher quality products.”

The Wine Society now offers its customers free delivery on every order, regardless of basket cost. Mansour explains that this initiative has proved successful, particularly with younger members, and those who he describes as “adventurers”. 

“Members that like to try new things are really using the free delivery service because they're seeing something like a Greek wine, and thinking ‘I've never tried Greek wine so I don't want to buy a case, but I can buy just one bottle and still get free delivery.’ So they're exploring our range more, which is great.”

Sustainability 

For the consumer wishing to moderate their drinking, Mansour says that abv is “on people’s minds”, with some opting for lower abv wines. 

Having recently conducted a “comprehensive tasting of about 60 low/no products”, The Wine Society is planning to introduce a host of new low/no drinks to its range as of next year. 

Mansour adds: “We wanted to look at not just low/no wine but other products that we think are relevant to wine drinkers, such as kombucha. So if you're a wine drinker, you're generally looking for something that's rewarding - something that has complexity and quality.”

His plans to introduce more low/no products comes as part of The Wine Society’s wider sustainability strategy, which Mansour says includes social responsibility as well the environmental element. 

“We believe that it's our responsibility as a wine merchant to provide options to all of our members, including those that want to drink more responsibly. For example, we recognise that some might not be drinking wine in the week, but still want something to replicate that feeling.” 

Elsewhere, The Wine Society is looking to trial alternative packaging to improve its sustainability credentials. 

“We are going to have about six of our own label wines available in alternative formats,” Mansour says. 

The aim of this, he explains, is to examine consumer reactions to alternative packaging, as well as “quality and shelf life”.

“We also have to really understand the full lifecycle of that packaging. Obviously we need to look at the energy required to make the packaging, but there is no point doing something that’s still going to end up in landfill - we need to make sure it’s easily recyclable for our members.”

And looking to the future, Mansour has no plans to stop at alternative formats when it comes to sustainability.

“Sustainability is one of the biggest things for us at the moment. We will be carbon neutral by 2024 and zero emissions from our direct operations by 2028. Eventually, we aim to be net zero across our business and supply chain by 2040."

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