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Should groceries have sommeliers on staff?

Having an expert staff a grocery’s wine department can boost sales for both the wine brands and the store itself.

4 min read

Food Retail

Grocery store sommeliers

Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Groceries across the US are expanding their wine departments, driven by consumer demand as well as the fact that an increasing number of states have updated their laws to allow grocery wine sales. While some grocers find their wine sales flourishing, others may need some help getting traction when starting to sell wines. One way that stores can boost wine sales is to hire a wine expert to help customers select the vintages that best suit their needs.

There are grocers that actually have sommeliers on staff, but others might find that in-store promotions featuring experts from various wine brands suit them best. Consider all of the options and then decide which will be the most beneficial before staffing up a wine department.

Staff sommeliers

One advantage to having sommeliers on staff at a grocery is that they can answer questions, make recommendations and even help customers pair wines with the ingredients in their shopping carts, says Elliot Begoun, principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on emerging food and beverage brands. “Many shoppers are overwhelmed by the choices on store shelves and may just choose not to buy wine if they can’t narrow it down,” he says. “Having an expert there to make recommendations can help them find the right wine and can also increase the power of suggestive sell.”

Groceries that are considering wine experts may also benefit from expanding that mindset to other departments as well. “If I were the grocer, I’d also have an expert staffing the craft beer department, and I’d have a cheesemonger as well, because beer, wine and cheese are the three things that are a big part of socializing,” Begoun said. “I wouldn’t staff it all the time, I’d have those employees there during times when people would be likely to shop for a social event.”

For example, a grocer might schedule the wine, beer and cheese experts starting Friday around 3:00 through the weekend, as well as before any special occasions.

In-store promotions

In some instances, wineries will send their own sommeliers to groceries for special events and in-store promotions, which can also boost sales dramatically for wine brands and also for the store.

“The grocer would see category growth by improving awareness to the selection and getting potential new shoppers,” Begoun says. “It’s a form of ‘retailtainment,’ as Wal-Mart dubbed it. Demos create buzz and excitement, people stop and pause and there is ‘shopper interruption,’ which means people deviate from their habit shopping routines.”

Grocers and wine brands should work together to schedule these types of in-store promotions, which may include discounts, sampling events, pairing advice and other types of cross-marketing strategies to help sales increase sales in the wine section of the store.

Cross-promotional agreements

Stores that don’t have the ability to employ sommeliers or bring in promotional wine experts may want to consider running cross-promotions with other products in the store, Begoun advises.

“I know of a wine distributor who has partnered with an artisan cheese producer,” he says. “Neck ringers around wine bottles that offer discounts in the fine cheese department and vice-versa has been a very, very effective promotion. If you think about the numbers, an in-store event one day for four hours gets a small percentage of shoppers, but a neck ringer would stand out among the 800 bottles on the shelf to everyone who passes down that aisle at all times.”

The consumers hunting for wine are likely to be interested in other products including cheese, steaks or premium chocolates as well, so stores that want to go this route should partner with a brand that pairs well with fine wine, Begoun says. “Grocery stores can do this type of promotion across various departments — for instance, they might tell shoppers that if they buy a porterhouse steak, they’ll get a coupon for $1.00 off any bottle of Gallo wine.”


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