Branded wines used to struggle to get on to Sainsbury's shelves, but now they are there in force and appear destined for a great future Christmas is looking good, and Sainsbury's wine director Allan Cheesman intends to make sure it is a very merry one for him and his team. Of course this year he won't be able to put his feet up and watch it all happen as he did in 1999 as marketing director of BRL Hardy. This year he is back in the fold and, with them, will be making sure out of stocks are at a minimum and that plans unfold on schedule. And he is delighted to be back: "I've been away 18 months and it is a changed place. It is absolutely great." Cheesman says his time with Hardy gave him a greater appreciation of the suppliers' side: "It came home to me that you are at the whim of a buyer and decisions being made a long way away. "It was interesting to see how my high street colleagues and competitors operated and the integrity, honesty and reliability of the JS team shone through. It is still the best trading team, although Morrison is very impressive. It has a small and lean team." While he was gone, the JS wine buying team grew from four to seven. The business is also buoyant. He says the high street recognises that beers, wines and spirits have achieved a certain hero status. While footfall through these aisles in some chains is relatively low Cheesman says it is close to 48% in Sainsbury stores and there are plans to make the most of this by moving the off licence sections nearer the front of the shops. In the showcase Cromwell Road, London store it is in the first quartile. One of the key issues pre-Christmas is always out of stocks. Cheesman says one of the simple solutions is putting in deeper shelves which are 12 bottles deep, so a facing of three bottles means three cases on the shelf. But he maintains: "The big challenge is range and choice management. We are much more open to suggestions but this time of year it is all about well known, well supported multipacks of beer and branded wines. "When there are key promotions on particular brands we have to be there. "There is a big future for branded wines. The problem now becoming apparent is that everyone's ranges are beginning to look the same. We have to create a point of difference. "It is a hero department and there must be exclusivities." He points out that in spite of the growth of branded wine, which accounts for 19% of the wine market, the Sainsbury range of exclusive wine is still the biggest brand in the UK. It contains 150 lines and benefits from the above the line investment in the Sainsbury name. "The brands used to struggle to get on the Sainsbury shelves but now they are there in force. Where they are advertised it would be remiss not to be involved. It would be like not stocking Sunny Delight just because you don't like it. It is about what consumers want." Wine sales have continued to boom this year, particularly the premium £5-£8 sector. This represents only 6% of the market but is the fastest growing category and 23% of Sainsbury's wine sales are at this level. Cheesman says: "There is a lot of margin at this level which means producers can promote more easily so they attract more consumers. "It is a virtuous circle." He says although there is buoyancy in the industry it will be difficult for all sectors to match last year's millennium fuelled peak, particularly champagne and sparkling wine which grew at 35% and 85% respectively. One sector certain to perform is the premium packaged spirits market. "Just 18 months ago the sector did not really exist but the performance of Smirnoff Ice and Bacardi Breezer has been phenomenal. "There are volume sales in every pack variant and every flavour and in every corner of the country. "It delivers on taste, is easy to drink, well marketed, well branded and reasonably priced. I think this sector has legs and is more than just a fad. "But it is also underspaced. The issue this Christmas will be holding it on display. "The category that looks to have suffered from this surge in demand is premium packaged lagers." Sainsbury has 23% of total wine sales in the multiple sector which is growing at 9%. The average price is £3.50 but Sainsbury's average has just gone through £4. Cheesman says: "This market is a gem. In 1972 we sold 72,000 bottles a week, now we do 2.5million. There are 32 million wine drinkers who are now consuming more than 18 litres each a year." {{FOCUS SPECIALS }}