“If you look at a lot of our wine, beer and spirits sets, you would not think we are a really large company,” says Curtis Mann, MW, group vice president, alcohol, at Albertsons Companies.
Indeed, Albertsons, which includes Safeway, Haggen, Shaw’s and numerous other grocery stores, puts a strong emphasis on regional identity and local preferences in its wine selection, from Paso Robles-heavy offerings in southern California to Washington-centric bottle choices in Seattle. This also holds true for spirits and beer.
“In Maryland, [we’ve] got a great selection of Dogfish Head,” Mann says. “Out in Portland, [Oregon,] we have some of the best selections of four pack, 16.9-ounce beers. In Northern California, we’ve got great selections of hazy IPAs.”
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.
Albertsons’ beginnings date all the way back to 1860, when one of its brands opened its first store in Portland, Maine. In 2015, the company merged with Safeway to become one of the largest food and wine retailers in the country, owning and operating 2,200 supermarkets across 20 different brands in 33 states and Washington, D.C.
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. 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.
“We’re becoming less of a grocery selection and more of a curated, marquee destination wine, beer and spirits shop,” Mann says.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with wine sales on the rise, Albertsons has not just given consumers choices when it comes to wine, beer and spirits, but has provided high-quality options across price tiers, with premiumization increasing to an extent Mann calls “shocking.”
“There’s been a trade up even further,” he says of wine buying during the pandemic. “I think it’s because people are dining at home more, and they want to have a really nice experience. They are looking to us to provide that nice experience and those nice bottles of wine.”
Albertsons succeeds here, too, by carefully curating selections at every price point, whether it is a $10 Spanish red or a $200 Napa Valley Cabernet.
“We have a curated set,” Mann says. “We can’t take everything,. If customers come into our stores, they know we’ve tasted through all of these products.”
For its excellence in bringing the world of wine, beer and spirits to people in a grocery store setting, Albertsons is our 2020 Retailer of the Year. —Sean P. Sullivan