Back in 1934, while much of the country was drinking gin, Fritzi Haskell was savoring fine wines. She would continue to promote them for 40 years. Fritzi and her husband, Benny, opened a retail liquor store in Minnesota in that year as well. Today, Haskell’s has 9 stores in Minnesota and one in Naples, Fla., and offers one of the best wine selections anywhere in the U.S.
In 1970, the Haskells sold their business to its current chairman, Jack Farrell. Dan Manning, Haskell’s chief operations officer, has been with the company since the sale in 1970, learned about wines from Fritzi, and become a connoisseur himself.
Today, Haskell’s has a variety of sales and marketing initiatives that have helped make it successful while increasing public awareness for vino. There are wine classes, a wine club called the Bacchus Society, a radio program and a website featuring recipes containing wine or liquor—many created by the eclectic Farrell. Haskell’s even offers wine cellaring services. Here, Manning shares his insights on the wine business, uncorking some of the latest wine trends.
The Beverage Information Group (BIG): Haskell’s has emphasized wines from its inception. How much of your business is wine sales, how much is spirits and how much is beer? Also, would you like to see this breakdown shifted or tweaked in any way?
Dan Manning: The breakdown is 55 percent wine, 25 percent liquor, and the remaining 20 percent is beer and accessories. We’re happy with that; we even changed our logo to “The Wine People” years ago to reflect this emphasis. It’s strictly a matter of economy--there’s more margin in wine than liquor or beer. When our owner, Jack Farrell, came on in 1970, we inherited a fine wine business. And since then we have strived to make wine something people can enjoy everyday.
BIG: How does the company generate interest in, and greater awareness of, wine among consumers?
Manning: In many ways. Jack does a weekly radio show; it’s a live program and he takes questions about wine from the audience and from callers. We have a website that educates people on wine and food pairings. We also highlight various wines on our site and explain about them. We offer wine classes, and we have a wine club. We also do mailings--our holiday catalog will go out to 45,000 households and will be inserted into newspapers to reach a quarter of a million people.
BIG: What trends are you seeing in wine today. Are people drinking more wine today, or are they drinking less, but higher-quality wine?
Manning: They are drinking more, as well as better, wines today. The day before Thanksgiving has traditionally been the biggest day of the year for wine sales. But that has been changing, as consumers come in and purchase wine throughout the year; they aren’t buying it just for a special occasion or on a holiday. Today, you’ll see people sitting at a restaurant sipping a glass of wine before dinner or while waiting for a table. Wine is more in the mainstream.
BIG: In what price range are the majority of wines being sold at your stores?
Manning: The majority of wines sold are in the $20 and under range. Prices for wine have really not increased much in this range--compare it to ties and blouses, for instance, which have increased due to inflation. However, in the $75 to $100 bottle range, prices have gone up dramatically due to the value of the dollar versus the euro.
BIG: What’s the most popular varietals today, and from what regions?
Manning: The most popular are pinot noirs, in part due to the effects of the movie Sideways. Shiraz from Australia and malbec from Argentina are also very popular. And cabernet sauvignon has always sold well. Our best selling white is pinot grigio, because it is so light and easy to drink, although chardonnay also does well.
BIG: Do you also sell organic or biodynamic wines, and is there much demand for them?
Manning: These wines represent roughly three to four percent of our total inventory. But, that number is growing and will continue to grow. That’s because more vineyards are turning “green”--using solar energy and wind power, not using pesticides on the vines, and so on. The demand for these wines is there and growing, as well.
BIG: What is Haskell’s biggest challenge today, and how are you overcoming it?
Manning: Probably competition from discount retailers. “Big box retailers” like Costco, Sams and Trader Joe’s are competing with us and it seems that every strip mall that goes up has a liquor store in it. However, we have staff who are highly motivated and trained, and that the big box retailers don’t have. Our service and extensive inventory set us apart.