Cyril Mondon, owner of an E. Leclerc hypermarket in Rouffiac — Tolosan,member and wine market manager for the E. Leclerc central buying office:
“Sales of boxed wines grew spectacularly during and after lockdown”
For twelve years, Cyril Mondon has owned a 6,000-square-metre E.Leclerc hypermarket – with a 400m2 wine department – near Toulouse. He was introduced to wine by his father and remains passionate about it - he did his first internship during the in-store wine festival. His store is renowned for its broad-ranging selection of wines: there are more than 1,000 SKUs, a good half of which are local to the region. He joined the selection teams for the national wine festival at the E.Leclerc Movement in 2009. For the past 3 years, he has been market manager for still and sparkling wines, overseeing 12 other members tasked with the wine department, divided into 3 negotiation teams.
Your hypermarket stayed open during the entire health crisis. How did your wine sales trend?
The still and sparkling wine market collapsed during lockdown. From March 16 to May 10, our sales of still wine fell by 7% and those of sparkling wines by 40%. The average loss for bottled wines was 22%. Conversely, our sales of boxed wines went through the roof, soaring by 25% over the same period. Some people reacted to the start of lockdown with huge anxiety, leading them to stock up on products such as pasta, rice and flour, but also wine in boxes.
Did sales rapidly pick up after the end of lockdown?
Yes, and even if there is still a slight drop, the week after the end of lockdown, the bottled still wine category rose by 22% and sparkling wines by a more marginal 5%; bottled wine sales on average gained more than 17%. Even after lockdown, boxes continued to surge ahead with a 34% increase for the category.
You usually get people to try a lot of wines in-store. How do you guide consumers through your extensive range now that you cannot do this at the moment?
It is true that we are no longer able to hold wine tastings in-store. This is normally a regular feature in our store, with two tastings a month attended by winemakers and wines to taste from the shelves with the in-house wine merchants. This is now done entirely through the advice of the wine merchant, though we also rely on a concept we have introduced and that is flavour stickers that allow our customers to identify the character of a wine. The stickers have a pointer defining the smell and flavour profile of the wine. We also class wines by food/wine pairings or drinking occasions, which livens up the wine department and provides consumers with a buying cue. By doing this, we give them essential decision-making tools when confronted with a “wine wall” as extensive as ours. Consumers can feel lost and we want to avoid that.
Will in-store tastings soon be allowed again?
We have that new procedures could be introduced, but there are still some grey areas. We hope things will be sorted out by September for the wine festivals. We have an excellent range showcased over a three-week period during the festival. Wine becomes the store’s star product. These events help us make consumers more familiar with wine. We create a stage for wine and provide a lot of tasting opportunities. It would be a shame not to be able to roll this out as normal this year.
In spite of everything, has the crisis created some buying opportunities?
If I had to find a positive point about all this, it would be that 2019 Bordeaux is much more restrained in terms of pricing. The drop in price will undoubtedly boost Grand Cru sales in supermarkets and hypermarkets. The wines were becoming unaffordable and reaching their limits. It will be good to start again on a sounder basis. We were beginning to lose sight of wine’s primary role, which is to be drunk and provide enjoyment.