Special: How Gelson’s associates alcohol and experiences


“On Special” is a monthly overview of the main categories of stores and the retailers who specialize in them.

Giving shoppers the chance to have in-store experiences with alcohol has been difficult for grocers due to safety concerns related to the pandemic, but Gelson’s Markets has found effective workarounds.

After temporarily closing its wine bars and suspending in-store tastings, the Southern California grocery chain has turned to virtual tastings, some featuring celebrities who have their own brands of alcohol. The upscale grocer is also preparing to open more wine bars and add more wines by the glass to each bar, said Ray Brych, Gelson responsible for the wines, beers and spirits category.

After its 13 wine bars reopened a few months ago, traffic has resumed in these gathering places, and about half of the places are seeing the same number of people as before the pandemic, Brych said.

Gelson, whose alcohol assortment consists of approximately 65% ​​wine, 20% spirits and 15% beer, places great importance on quality, unique offers and customer confidence in its products. alcohol offers.

A wine bar in a Gelson store.

Authorization granted by Gelson’s Markets


Sales of tequila recently exploded from its third place to vodka as the No.1 spirits sold by Gelson’s, Brych said. Among tequila, the more expensive bottles are popular and brands like The Casamigo are fly off the shelves. “We try to get as much as possible whenever we can get it,” Brych said. “But when we get it, let’s go.”

Gelson Also sells a lot of hard seltzer and has recently seen an increase in sales as the seltzer craze continues, he said.

What’s the trend?

Brych said he’s seeing customers shifting towards purchasing larger-sized spirits bottles, noting that 1.75-liter bottles of Tito vodka have been popular lately. With people staying further indoors since the start of the pandemic, he continues to see customers stock up and afford high-end wines more often: “Saturday bottles are Tuesday night bottles.”

Gelson buyers also doubled brand loyalty in the liquor department during the pandemic, with people tending to stick to names they know. Gelson’s has made sure to keep the biggest brands available, while researching ways, like digital promotions and spotlights in their newsletter, to entice people to try unique and lesser-known offers for a shopping experience on the hunt. treasure.

“[We’re] trying to educate our store staff to let people know, “If you like this, you’re going to like this, this, this and this too” ” Brych said.

Tap into premium private label wine

Brych joined Gelson’s about a month after the grocer launched his house brand wine in 2017 with a handful of grape varieties produced by winemaker Doug Margerum in Santa Barbara. A broker put Brych in touch with Napa Valley winemaker Julien Fayard, which led to the launch of the first rosé at the end of summer 2018.

Gelson’s house brand wine produced by Julien Fayard.

Authorization granted by Gelson’s Markets

Initially sell wines in the Ranging from $ 17 to $ 35, Gelson’s more recently released higher-priced varietals, like a $ 50 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve that he released two years ago that had a 2017 vintage.

“We were a little nervous thinking, ‘Are people going to buy a private label bottle for $ 50? “” Brych recalled. “I was scratching my head and thinking, ‘I don’t know. I hope I would, especially if I knew who it was made by.'”

Gelson’s continues its tradition of adding house brand wines before the holiday season by launching two wines crafted by Julien Fayard this fall: a $ 40 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon from Mt. Veeder and an Epicure Series cabernet sauvignon at $ 80 from Howell Mountain. At $ 80, Howell Mountain wine is relatively inexpensive for area wines, which typically start at $ 150, Brych said.

In total, Gelson’s has 12 wines under its own brand.

Brych is inspired by what the winemakers in the store do. He sees premium private label options as a differentiator for Gelson’s, noting that while many house brand wines are made from “bulk juice” which is less expensive, the grocer has focused on quality rather than maximizing margins.

“I really wanted to be a few steps above the quality and really be able to shout something that we’re very proud of. We can really say, ‘You want that $ 50 bottle? Try this. You want a $ 100 bottle – try that $ 50 bottle, ”he said.

Star-starred virtual wine tastings

After the pandemic, Gelson suspended in-store tastings and decided to take inspiration from the virtual tastings that wineries were hosting. After testing several types in the fall of last year, the grocer launched his hour-long virtual alcohol tastings, which include the star winemaker and Gelson’s cheese maker tasting two to three wines with charcuterie. .

Gelson’s has used online events not only to spotlight wineries like Silver Oak, Santa Margherita and Far Niente, but also to promote his work with Margerum and Fayard. This year also saw some star-studded lineup, like a tasting with “Breaking Bad” stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul where guests sampled their mezcal brand, Dos Hombres, and another with musician Jon Bon Jovi and his son. Jesse Bongiovi who focused on the duo. Hampton Water brand of wine.

Brych said he was skeptical that the tastings would remain popular as “zoom fatigue” set in, but was pleasantly surprised by their continued success. “I think as long as people are interested in participating, we will continue to have them,” he said.

A wine bar in a Gelson store.

Authorization granted by Gelson’s Markets

Take advantage of wine bars to boost sales

Gelson’s has found that one way to promote its virtual tastings is to use its in-store wine bars, which reopened earlier this year after temporarily closing when the pandemic first hit. Gelson’s showcased some of the wines during virtual tastings at wine bars before the events to generate interest. During the tasting with Jon Bon Jovi, people from the Irvine store were able to participate live on Zoom.

The grocer also has a service called Sip n ‘Shop where customers of wine bars can give the bartender their grocery lists and store employees will buy the orders. While some people might be hesitant to outsource their groceries to someone else, Brych said the free program grows organically, mostly through word-of-mouth.

“It’s the coolest thing to talk about. Now he’s trying to get people to actually try him. … It is excellent service that we provide that sets us apart, ”he said.

Wine bars currently have a limited menu of around 12 to 15 wines by the glass, up from the typical 40 before the pandemic. Twelve of the stores carry between eight and 12 beers on tap, while the company’s store in Silver Lake, Calif., Has about two dozen due to customer demand. The Liquor team, which chooses drink selections for wine bars, is currently expanding the wine list to include 25 wines by the glass, some sake and some soft drinks.

Testifying to the popularity of wine bars, two more are expected to open in the near future, Brych said.

Shake up recipes with alcoholic additions

Gelson’s took advantage of their Facebook and Instagram accounts to shine a light on how to make alcoholic cocktails and desserts as well as food and non-alcoholic drink recipes. Recent posts include Manhattan Ice Cream with Peppery Rye Whiskey and Sweet Vermouth, The Pink Squirrel Ice Cream Cocktail with cream of cores and cream of cocoa, and an avocado margarita with silver tequila and Grand Marnier.

Avocado Margarita Recipe on Gelson’s Instagram.

Retrieved from Instagram on October 07, 2021

Gelson’s also used social media to highlight the pairings, like noting the peach and almond notes and the crunchy bubbles of the Moët & Chandon. Imperial Brut champagne goes well with Brillat-Savarin triple cream cheese spread on dark chocolate from Villars Maître Chocolatier. On TikTok, the grocer shared several videos of food and wine pairing, like the one with brie, olives and sauvignon blanc.

The alcohol content is created by the grocer’s recipe development team, according to Gelson.

The State of Alcohol Sales in the United States

  • Beer has generated the most dollar sales (about $ 34.6 billion) so far this year, followed by still wine (nearly $ 9.6 billion), spirits (nearly $ 8 billion ) and sparkling wine (about $ 1.3 billion), according to data collected by Chicago. market research firm IRI from January 1 to October 3, 2021.
  • Of the four product categories, sparkling wine experienced the strongest growth in dollar sales, up 7.6% from same period last year and up 38.2% from 2019, by IRI. Meanwhile, still wine saw the lowest rate over one and two years, with dollar sales down 6.5% from the same period in 2020.
  • During the past year, sales of cases of sparkling wine and spirits increased 2.5% and 0.7%, respectively, while still wine and beer declined 10.8% and 4.2%, respectively. Over a two-year stack, still wine was the only one of the four categories to show negative growth in case sales (-1%).


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