Albertsons Cos. has been named as the 2020 Retailer of the Year by Wine Enthusiast magazine.
Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons said Thursday that the company was recognized for “its excellence in bringing the world of wine, beer and spirits to people in a grocery store setting.” The Wine Enthusiast article about the honor, part of the publication’s 2020 Wine Star Awards, cited the wine and spirits knowledge level of Albertsons’ associates, the retailer’s wine selection and presentation, and the autonomy that the company gives to local teams to cater to the communities and regions served.
“On behalf of our talented wine, beer and spirits teams all across the country, we are deeply honored by this recognition,” Curtis Mann, group vice president of alcohol at Albertsons Cos., said in a statement. “We work so hard to curate unique offerings that set us apart as a marquee destination for wine, beer and spirits.”
In tailoring a store’s wine assortment to the local customer base, Albertsons said that may entail offering a bigger selection of Washington and Oregon wines in the Pacific Northwest, or showcasing more wines imported from Europe in New England stores.
“Albertsons gives local stores considerable autonomy in what they offer. That knowledge and expertise of the local beverage scene is then leveraged nationally to ride and drive trends,” Wine Enthusiast said in the article, which also pointed out that the retailer takes the same approach for its local beer offerings.
In selected stores, Albertsons operates temperature-controlled wine cellars to create a more engaging experience for “discerning wine customers,” the company said. Albertsons, too, has invested in formal training for associates so they can better meet customers’ wine and spirits needs. For example, Mann, a 20-year wine industry veteran of the wine industry, passed the Masters of Wine exam earlier this year to become only the 53rd person in the United States to hold that title, which is certified by the London-based Institute of Masters of Wine.
“Wine departments are often set up as stores-within-a-store, with many locations offering dedicated cellars for top-end wines, beverage stewards to guide selections and on-site tastings where allowed,” Wine Enthusiast wrote. “A considerable percentage of staff have formal training, which allows them to understand and anticipate customer needs at a high level. When people come to Albertsons stores, it’s increasingly because of the wine selection.”
Albertsons added that it also offers award-winning portfolio of own brands in the alcoholic beverage category. Wine Enthusiast, for instance, designated the retailer’s Round Rock Vodka as a best buy with a 90-point rating, making it one of the best offerings in its product segment and price level.
The grocer now offers more than 50 brands and 140 SKUs in wine, spirits and beer, managed by the team of Maryrose Rinella, director of own brands product management for beverage, snacks and alcohol, and Jose Rodriguez, product manager for alcohol private brands.
“I spend a lot of time innovating and finding new opportunities for our portfolio,” according to Rodriguez. “At any given time, I can have more than 20 new item projects that I’m working on that could really add value to the consumer and our stores.”
One key consumer trend centers on wellness, meaning beverages with a lower alcohol content, fewer calories, and low or no sugar.
“Shoppers are gravitating towards lower alcohol, ‘better for you’ offerings, as they focus more on their own health and wellness,” Rinella stated. “In fact, last year, one in five U.S. consumers participated in ‘Dry January.’”
Albertsons Cos. stores currently sell Viola Rosa, a semi-sweet, low-alcohol wine brand, as well as USDA-certified organic wines under the retailer’s O Organics brand. The O Organics California Chardonnay 2019 was recognized for “Best Quality in the Organic Wines” by the Private Label Manufacturers Association in the PLMA 2020 International Salute to Excellence Awards.
“As we see more Gen Z growth in alcohol sales, we expect to see even more growth in ‘better for you’ products,” Rodriguez said.
Convenience also weighs heavily with consumers in the category. “Cans are becoming more popular across all beverage alcohol segments, from hard seltzers in slim cans to canned wine to ready-to-drink cocktails,” Rinella explained.
Rodriguez cited Albertsons’ barrel-fermented Creamery Chardonnay as one of its biggest-growth innovation items for the last year. “Due to the item’s success, we recently launched the wine in a 375-ml canned wine format to extend use occasions and received a gold medal at the International Canned Wine Competition. We were one of only 10 Chardonnays/Sauvignon Blancs combined to be recognized,” he said.
Albertsons' 24 Days of Wine Advent Calendar contains a case of 24 mini-bottle wines from premier U.S. wine regions.
Among its own brands, Albertsons offers a canned wine format — Outspoken, a top 10 premium canned wine in the U.S. and a top-five seller in Albertsons Cos. stores, the company said — and a box wine format called Box Wize.
Customers, too, are increasingly seeking premium options. “Consumers are trading up. They want quality over quantity,” Rodriguez noted. “Our Signature Reserve line, which we launched about a year ago, is a top-shelf premium brand. We just received some really amazing scores on the wine and spirit items that really highlight the quality behind each item being introduced under the brand.”
And for the first time, Albertsons this year launched a wine Advent calendar. The 24 Days of Wine Advent Calendar contains a case of 24 mini-bottle wines from premier U.S. wine regions. Consumers pop out the cardboard tops to pull out the 187-ml bottles, with the case quantity comparable to six 750-ml bottles of wine.
“We’ve sourced these wines from very specific regions such as California’s Paso Robles, Washington’s Columbia Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley,” said Rodriguez. “These are really premium wines with a unique sense of place.”
The nation’s second-largest supermarket operator, Albertsons Cos. operates 2,252 food and drug stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia under banners such as Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, Acme, Tom Thumb, Randalls, United Supermarkets, Pavilions, Star Market, Haggen and Carrs.