With the holiday gift giving season in sight, beverage alcohol retailers are stocking up amid shortages of major brands and popular gift sets. “It’s showtime,” says Mark O’Callaghan, owner of Exit 9 Wine & Liquor Warehouse in metropolitan Albany, New York. “We have a limited window. We have to do it right. November and December account for 24% of our annual dollar sales and 50% of our overall profits.”
Tequilas, Bourbons, spirits-based RTDs, national wine brands, and 3-liter box wines continue strong sales trends. “It’s really about inventory and supply chain problems,” O’Callaghan says. “We were six weeks without any Johnnie Walker. We had no Black ($44.75 a 750-ml.) or Red ($34.28 a 750-ml.). We just got some in and it’s not going to get me through the holidays. I don’t know if I am going to get any Champagnes trickling in, especially Veuve Clicquot (Yellow Label $68.67 a 750-ml.) or Moet Chandon (Brut Imperial $49.83 a750-ml.). They have been on and off. My customers want the national brands.”
At San Francisco-based Wine.com, December represents about 20% of its annual sales. “While we have a strong sparkling wine interest year-around, this category, lead by Champagne, always peaks for holidays,” Osborn says. “Holiday average order values are a little smaller than year-around, but the average bottle price is higher. More often a customer purchases more expensive bottles, but fewer of them, for gift giving purposes.”
O’Callaghan has noticed a lack of value-added packages or gift sets with accessories like glasses. “I’m getting limited quantities,” he says. “More than half of the gift sets typically readily available are on allocation. Our main challenge for November and December is making sure we are communicating with our wholesalers about inventory and availability.”
Wine.com refreshed and updated more than two-thirds of its popular wine gift baskets for the 2022 holiday season. “Our thematic wine gift sets, many featuring regions or varieties of wines, are often accompanied with video interviews with the winemakers and continue to be very popular,” Osborn says.
Cognac sales tick up this time of year and Exit 9 has a full Hennessy (VS $47.34 a 750ml.) inventory. Bourbon sales are brisk. “We have a huge barrel program. At any one time we have 40 something single barrel selections,” O’Callaghan says. “Bourbon is a fun because it’s a pragmatic consumer who is willing to jump and try a new thing. Anything that says Jack Daniel’s (Old No. 7 $29.77 a 750-ml.) or Woodford Reserve ($38.15), or Maker’s Mark (101 Proof $33.17 a 750-ml.) will fly out the door.”
While overall retail wine sales are down slightly this year at Exit 9, major national brands like Josh ($11.93), Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay ($12.93), Cavit Pinot Grigio ($9.64 a 750-ml.), Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio ($24.18), and 3-liter boxed wine sales (Black Box Sauvignon Cabernet $18.93) remain strong. “The trends are still the same with Cabernet-Sauvignon the No. 1 seller and Chardonnay No. 2,” O’Callaghan says. “We are starting to see Merlot come back.”
During the November and December holiday season, Wine.com plans to add 500 full-time team members in its fulfillment centers and more than 200 into its customer service and wine recommendations teams. Exit 9 has a staff of 50 people—25 full-time and 25 part-time—and plans to hire 10 to 15 seasonal employees from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve. Amid the busy holiday run up, retailers plan for 2023. “This week we selected Bourbon barrels that will be delivered mid-January or the first of February,” he says.