The Wine List at Butlin's
Let's have a little look at the drink options at Butlin's.
I went on a family holiday to Butlin’s in Bognor Regis last week. If you’re looking for an eclectic selection of modern and natural wines, with a focus on innovative, family producers, don’t go to Butlin’s.
That seems a fairly obvious thing to say, but the thing that makes me stop and think, is why. Why is it so blindingly obvious that if you want those sort of wines, Butlin’s would be the last place on earth you think of?
We’re going to take a look at the drinks offering, and see if we could do any better. Would ‘doing better’ be achievable, and if it was, would anyone notice?
Butlin’s, B Serve - Order to Your Table.
They have an App. Most people on site are more concerned about their kids running off, under the influence of nugs and dextrose to find the time to queue up at a bar. Plus, itineraries are so jam packed that it’s easier to sit down in time for the next performance of The Frozen Adventure, and get the drinks brought to your table.
The App is shit. Buggy, glitchy, switching from one venue on site to another seems to break the app every time. It makes you add a credit card payment regardless of the fact that Apple Pay is full integrated.
Under the Bognor Regis massive tent, there’s a playpark, kids stage, fast food outlets, arcades, VR machines, a human sized Hungry Hippo game, and ‘Bar Rosso’.
Here’s their Wine Selection Special Offers. A functional Trebbiano, Sangiovese or Rosado for £14.50 a bottle. In the wider list, there’s an equally run of the mill, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Malbec, White Zin, a Pinot Grigio Blush, and a Prosecco.
Eleven Wines. It’s pretty much the same selection in all of the Butlins establishments on site, except perhaps for their take on a city centre Wetherspoon’s, in Bognor called ‘The Beachcomber Inn’.
Distribution in Numbers
I spent a while trying to figure out who the distribution is for these wines, as they’re not exclusively exclusive to Butlins, with the other brands too there is some limited UK distribution, mostly to obscure venues.
There’s about 10,000 guests at the Minehead resort, and about 6000 (ish) at Butlin’s and Skegness, so if we say 18,000 guests per day (75% Occupancy), for 30 weeks of the year (?)1. Giving about 4 million guests per year, likely around 2 million of those drinking age?
It’s a finger-in-the-air guess about how much wine is consumed, but if 2 million guests have 1 glass of wine per day, that’s about 500,000 bts of wine per year, which I think is a very conservative estimate.
Either way, Butlin’s is a fairly lucrative account for any of the bigger UK wholesalers, probably with a considerable tie in, contract, discount?
It’s strange to me that at these volumes they aren’t exclusively creating Butlin’s brands, be that Butlin’s branded, or proprietary brands. For example, the Principato Pinot Grigio is also distributed by Boutinot, but I imagine that Butlin’s isn’t buying that one wine from them.
Who Owns Butlins
The volume is enough that a large agency in the UK could handle the complexities of sourcing, importing and storing the wines, exclusively for a large customer. Offering a range of wines exclusively to multiple groups of venues owned by the same parent company is pretty normal.
My original point here was to discuss how the wine offer at Butlin’s was pretty sub standard, with mainstream entry point wines, offered around inoffensive Chardonnay and Merlot.
Perhaps with one eye on their target market, of middle-earner, 2.4 children families, on the (correct?) assumption that the wine range isn’t the main draw for a child-led holiday zone, and that any wine will do?
But, interestingly, the wines are remarkably similar to those available at the Warner Hotel Group.
That’s because Bourne Leisure Ltd owns both Butlin’s and Warner Hotels.
From the Warner List, one of the wines is the ‘Proudly Vegan’ Sauvignon Blanc, and also the Proudly Vegan Merlot, which are both brands created by Broadland Drinks. My gut says a majority of the brands, including that Trebbiano and Sangiovese pair, are sourced, bottled in the UK and distributed by Broadland Drinks.
Warner promote themselves as positively ‘Adult Only’, likely more affluent, child free or child non-dependent, looking for a relaxing break at the Warner Hotels?
Interesting to note isn’t it, that these seemingly opposite environments, with more than likely a different demographic, economically and potentially philosophically, are perfectly happy when offered up the same dross selection of wines2?
Yes, there’s a smattering of Cloudy Bay, and Ayala Champagne, and Denbies English Sparkling in the mix, but largely it’s the same wine list.
For example, the Chio Prosecco at Butlin’s is offered at £19.95, while at the Warner Hotels, ‘Brasserie 32’, it’s £30. While the Fontana Sangiovese is on offer at £14.50 a bottle when you’re staying at Butlin’s, but it’s £22 at the Warner Group sites.
I wonder if your average Warner Hotel guest, is just a Butlin’s family once the kids have flown the nest, and over the space of 20 years, their interest in wine hasn’t bloomed all that much.
A Better Selection?
Give any of my wine buyer friends a week or two, and I bet we could source a much more interesting wine selection. One that could probably hit most of the relevant price points, wine styles such, but with more esoteric selections.
That dull Trebbiano, could be an entry level Feteasca Regala from Philip Cox at Cramele Recas, no problem.
The question to ask though is, why? Is anyone in the country, except me, lamenting the selection of wines at Butlin’s, digging into their ownership structure and thinking of a more exciting proposition? Who else spends their Sunday afternoon thinking about the potential commercial proposition of pushing the wine range in a different direction?
The wines that venues like these are stocking are not the folly of people with a passion for wines. The customers that are buying them, arguably aren’t that interested either. As long as the wines are fine, just fine, then the customers will buy them.
With so little time for customer service at Butlin’s, pushing their 1000’s of guests to order via mobile Apps, limited space for tasting notes, and price-led offers, the wines have to sell themselves.
To do that the wines need to be pretty obvious and mainstream, and I imagine they’re serving their key demographic just fine.
Maybe I’m the problem.
An article in Decanter, from 2010 (yes, 13 years ago), by Lucy Shaw showcasing the new ‘Fine Wine’ Selection at Butlin’s.
The list was compiled by sommelier Pip Martin, ex wine manager of Harrods, in response to customer demand: wine sales at Butlins have increased by 34% in the last two years.
Butlins managing director Richard Bates said, ‘Butlins will be the place to go for a good Burgundy or top-notch bubbly.
‘These are world class wines at prices that don’t take the mickey’, he added.
Obviously, it didn’t work out in the long term.
Butlin’s was recently sold, and apparently Centre Parcs is now up for sale.
Two things to read.
Firstly, some glorious economic insight from Andrew Lynch’s Newsletter, Net Income.
Secondly, a fantastically hilarious article on Centre Parcs coming up for sale… frustratingly, in The Daily Mail.
Nirvana for frazzled middle-class parents or an overpriced Butlin’s for snobs? When it comes to Center Parcs, opinions are firmly divided.
So is it worth the price tag? Do the villages make for the perfect holiday — or hell on earth? Five writers give their verdicts . . .
I’m just making these numbers up now.