Thursday, 30 May 2019

A case to consider

It’s The Case of Ten Bottles. And sadly, it’s not a Sherlock Holmes story.

It’s an “introductory case”, offering 10 bottles of wine and two Riedel wineglasses. As opposed to 12 bottles of actual wine. These are merchants who say they are “determined to break the mould”, which calling 10 bottles a “case” certainly does in my book.

Is the ten-bottle case now a thing? Are we entering a world of a one-piece suit, a pack of 18 cigarettes and a box of five eggs?

We know all about “shrinkflation”, with fewer biscuits in a packet, less chocolate in a bar, a smaller number of fish fingers in a box. Sometimes they change the size of the packaging, sometimes they don’t; my packets of digestives now have an empty, loose bit of packet at the end which once contained a couple of additional biscuits. Unless you examine the quantity or weight, you think you’re still getting a bar, or a packet, or in this instance a case – but it actually contains a bit less.

In this case (and I mean “case”) it’s 2/12ths less. A reduction of 16.6%.

I don’t think they are trying to fool anyone. It’s clearly an introductory sampling, for first-time customers, such novices that they don’t even possess two decent wineglasses. Novices, indeed, who may not even know that a case is usually 12 bottles. But then, why call it a case?

It was bad enough when people started selling six-bottle cases. Wasn’t there a time when only champagne was sold in six-bottle cases? Partly, I believed, because of the weight of the (thicker glass) bottles, which made a 12-bottle case unwieldy; and partly because the cost was so high that people rarely bought 12 bottles at a time.

Now, the six bottle case is everywhere. Convenient, yes, lighter, and a less expensive single outlay; remember how Majestic’s customers increased when they reduced their minimum purchase from a twelve-bottle case to a six. But is it true that posh wine merchants call the six-bottle a Pauper’s Case? And it’s so confusing, when you think you’ve found a good buy by the case in a list, and then find it’s actually twice as expensive per bottle as you thought.

So why call it a case at all? Why not call twelve bottles a case, and six bottles a box?

And if, on decimalisation grounds, you feel that ten is a better measure than a dozen, because it makes it so much easier to calculate the cost of an individual bottle, then standardise that – only call it a "decem" or something.

But of course it’s the tradition of “a case of wine”, with all its social resonance, which is behind this. If you’re buying wine in quantity, any quantity, then the marketers think that by calling your selection a “case”, you feel you’re becoming a more significant wine purchaser, a descendant of George Saintsbury, that you’ve risen to the status of starting a cellar yourself, even if you actually live in one. No wonder they “introduce” you to multiple wine purchase with a “case”, even if it actually comes in a carton.

So how low will merchants sink to employ the term? How minimal can a multiple purchase be in order to call it “a case”? Merchants selling two bottles generally have the dignity to refer to them as “duos” or “gift boxes”.

But step forward Berry Bros & Rudd, because here is a Berry Bros Classic Collection mixed case… of three bottles. 

A “case” of three bottles. Three. From Berry Bros, of all people. I thought they were old enough to know better.


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