The wine department can be an intimidating place.
Aside from the many bottles of red and white that line the shelves, there are countless brands, wine-growing regions and packaging types to choose from.
This can discourage a shopper who may have a meal planned and a guest list finalized, but is having a hard time choosing the right wine accompaniment.
Retailers want to cater to wine shoppers, especially in a category generating higher basket rings, but often they cannot have an associate in every aisle to help inform them.
That's where in-store media come in. Shelf tags, kiosks and other tools are helping to demystify the category without the high cost of labor required for face-to-face consultations.
Jungle Jim's International Market, in Fairfield, Ohio, uses shelf tags to post wine ratings from sources like Wine Spectator and noted U.S. wine critic Robert Parker.
If a wine has not been officially rated, Jungle Jim's makes its own shelf tags that have comments from its very own wine director, Dave Schmerr, and his staff.
Small shelf talkers under the heading “Dave's Faves” include the style of the wine — such as light, fragrant, dry or crisp — and information on its “drinkability,” such as if it can be enjoyed now, or is better saved for another year.
“We use easy-to-understand terms,” Schmerr said.
The tactic enables Jungle Jim's to highlight some of its more unique bottles, such as those from local wineries like Burnet Ridge in North College Hills, Ohio. Schmerr touts the winery's Purple Trillium brand, a limited-edition Bordeaux blend consisting of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot.
Shelf tags read, “… Try this from our favorite local wine maker. Tastes just like a top-notch Bordeaux …”
The labels are a way for Jungle Jim's to educate shoppers about wine, without directly approaching them.
“A lot of people don't want to be bothered; they just want to browse,” Schmerr said. “This is our way of being there without being there.”
The retailer's wine department boasts about 500 shelf signs, most of which are custom-made by Jungle Jim's. Customers appreciate the effort, said Schmerr.
“It shows that we took the time out to do it ourselves, rather than just slapping on a manufacturer's sign,” he said.
Along with shelf tags posted near individual bottles, Jungle Jim's uses larger 8- by 14-inch signs on every wine display on the sales floor.
These signs explain what a wine tastes like or the kind of food it complements, such as “This wine goes great with salmon,” or “This is a good grilling wine.”
“Our goal is to give them a little something to read, just a few blurbs,” he said.
Dorothy Lane Market, Dayton, Ohio, also uses its own in-store media in the wine department. But unlike Jungle Jim's, it doesn't use any professional wine ratings.
“There are a lot of wines that are excellent with food that will never get a 90-plus rating,” said wine director Todd Templin.
Because of this, Dorothy Lane instead posts shelf tags that have comments from its 14-person wine staff about wines and the foods that can be enjoyed with them. For instance, a wine from Bordeaux may read, “Full-bodied rich wine. Try with our rib-eye.”
“Most of our customers don't know Robert Parker, but they know our staff, so it works,” Templin said.
The shelf tags are about 3 by 5 inches, laminated, and signed by a staff member. They are posted with every new vintage or brand, along with bottles that certain wine associates favor.
“We use them for whatever is new, or the staff is excited about,” he said.
The signage lets customers shop on their own, but gives them confidence, knowing that certain wines meet staff approval, said Templin.
While some retailers prefer to make their own shelf tags, Cincinnati-based Kroger is one of several retailers using manufacturer-supplied “AdTags” in the wine department.
AdTags are four-color shelf-edge labels that combine a brand's product image and advertising message with a retailer's price and bar code. Retailers and/or manufacturers can use them for customized SKU-specific messages.
“AdTags provide the ability to communicate information other than price and promotion at the shelf,” said Tim McKenzie, president and chief operating officer, Vestcom International, the Little Rock, Ark., provider of AdTags. “It's a mini-billboard.”
Although they're used throughout the store, AdTags hold particular weight in the wine and spirits department, where marketers are using them to highlight different aspects of wine.
Some brands use the tags to communicate food pairings, while others explain the taste or serving size of their products. For instance, Constellation Wines' Centerra Wine Co. is using AdTags for its Trove wine box. The tags highlight the fact that the box provides 24 glasses of premium wine and keeps the contents fresh for one month after opening.
Other manufacturers are using the tags to communicate information about contests and charitable efforts.
Retailers can also use the tags to promote their own private-label or exclusive wines. Several tests in this area are under way, although McKenzie declined to provide details.
Shelf tags may be the dominant form of in-store media in the wine department, but they're not the only tools in use.
Food Lion's Bloom, Salisbury, N.C., is using kiosks from ShoptoCook, Buffalo, N.Y., that provide assistance with wine, as well as other services, including a price check, item locator and meal planning. The kiosks are in the wine department of about 50 Bloom stores, as well as in seven other areas of the store.
Users can get wine pairing recommendations based on their own recipes, or they can get a list of recipes based on a wine they have chosen. Prices are also provided at the kiosks.
“It's a 24-hour digital associate that's an expert on every bottle of wine in the store,” said ShoptoCook software engineer Andre Bickford.
The kiosks can be customized with a name of the retailer's choosing. For instance, Bloom calls its machines the “Information Station.”
Retailers can tailor content based on their needs. For instance, Kroger chose to have three specific wine options: “everyday wines,” “premium wines” and “our recommendations.”
Kroger started testing the kiosks three months ago in eight stores in the Cincinnati area, according to Bickford. Besides the wine department, they are located in other areas of the store, including produce, meat, seafood and deli.