Port sales in the pink

Tesco’s latest category review has seen the supermarket giant taking on new port listings, which Maxxium UK believes is a positive sign for the future of the category.

Oddbins, too, has launched a “refreshed port range” in time for Christmas with new ports from family-owned company Churchill’s, plus additional lines from its current suppliers.

Oddbins buyer Ana Sapungiu says she has seen a shift in consumers’ interest in the category. “We have noticed that Tawny port is becoming more popular and we have responded to this by ordering two new Tawny ports, Noval 10 Year Old and Taylor’s 10 Year Old in 37.5cl,” she says.

“We are launching a white port from Churchill’s in a 50cl bottle for the first time. This will have distribution in a selected number of stores.”?Sapungiu says white port is being used to reach customers who are not traditional port drinkers. They’re either enjoying it as an aperitif or using it in cocktails or with a mixer, like white port and tonic, she says.

Mark Symonds, marketing controller for John E Fells, which distributes Symington Family Estates, and includes the port houses of Graham’s, Dow’s and Smith Woodhouse, agrees white port has come back into fashion.

“White port is popular – but clearly growing white grapes in the Douro Valley is very difficult. There is a resurgence but you have to put it in context – ruby still makes up the vast majority of sales,” he says.

According to Nielsen, the port market is worth £73 million, up 2% from last year. Of this, standard and premium ruby accounts for three-quarters of volume sold in the off-trade.

However, Andrew Bird, category manager of M&S wines, beers and spirits, believes there has also been a change in how consumers view port.

“People are enjoying lighter, fresher styles such as white and pink port. We have encouraged customers to drink these as long drinks with soda or lemonade and serve over ice.

“At the other extreme, there is growing interest in vintage port, as people recognise what great value these wines are as gifts compared with fine Bordeaux or Burgundy.”?The port category is still very much a seasonal one, according to Sainsbury’s buyer Vanessa Pearson.

She says: “Due to the strong seasonality within the category it is difficult to identify trends which are not driven by this and promotional activity. However, it does appear good growth is coming through in Tawny and LBV styles. We have a very strong own-label range offering quality and value throughout the year, but the high volumes are driven during Christmas with our focused promotional lines.”?M&S pink port was developed jointly with Taylor’s in 2008 in a bid to widen port’s appeal to new consumers outside the key Christmas period. Bird says this has been “widely copied ever since by other shippers and retailers”.

Bird says rosé port “sells well all year round, so long as you explain the style to customers – you can’t just put it on the shelf and hope it will sell”.

Symonds dismisses this new entry to the port scene. “Rosé port is largely a gimmick,” he says. He confirmed Symington wouldn’t be looking at producing a rosé style of port.

Adrian Bridge, managing director of the Fladgate Partnership, which owns Taylor’s says his idea behind Croft Pink was to “produce a lighter style of port that is less formal”.

Croft Pink was launched in February 2008 and is listed in Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and the Co-op (rrp £10.49). Bridge says it is having “a major push into the on-trade, where it provides an innovative mixer for bar staff making cocktails”.

“It is ideal for summer drinking and is targeted at expanding the overall port market,” he says. “Many people have talked about trying to deseasonalise port and Croft Pink can certainly help. We expect it to attract a younger consumer to the category and also be of more interest to female consumers than some more traditional styles.”?Andrew Hawes, managing director of Mentzendorff & Co, the agent for Croft Pink, says the new style has been favourably received by buyers. “It is perceived as a welcome innovation within what – to them – is a traditional category.

“Having secured shelf space, we have been working closely with our major retailers to find the optimum mix of merchandising and promotion to encourage trial. This seems to be the key to success for Croft Pink – when the consumer tries they buy and they are also coming back for more, with a high rate of repeat purchase.”?Bridge says he has launched some legal challenges against other producers who are using the pink port name.

“The category was approved as rosé port in July 2009. However, some producers still label their products pink in violation of the European Community trademark we have, contrary to European and Portuguese law. We are defending our rights prior to seeking compensation.”?Paulo Coutinho, winemaker at Quinta do Portal, says some of his competitors’ rosés lack “elegance and balance”.

He says: “They tend to be too sweet for me, thus needing to be drunk very, very cold. They lack harmony on the palate and lose the appealing notes of the red fruit aromas.” Coutinho has been making rosé port since 2009 but is not shipping it yet.

Oscar Quevedo, of family-owned Quevedo, sees rosé as a “big step forward for the industry to attract younger consumers towards port wine as a style”.

He says: “We started making it in 2008, after Croft’s Pink port launched. We felt that there was market for a rosé port. Since the very beginning, it’s been quite controversial as purists deny that it’s truly a port. In a certain way they are right, it’s very different from traditional port. But that’s good – it helps us to attract people towards a different style of wine, a style that widely varies in taste, colour, texture and aroma.”