Casual restaurants pare wine for spirits, beer

Eight in 10 large U.S. casual-dining chains surveyed cut the number of wines on their menus in recent months, according to a new report by a market-research firm.

Between August and March, the chains cut wine selections by a combined 17 percent, each ranging between 6 percent and 28 percent, according to Fairfield, Conn.-based Winemetrics, LLC, which specializes in on-premise wine and spirits distribution. The survey, released Monday, covers more than 3,500 U.S. locations and includes restaurants such as Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster and Ruby Tuesday.

Limiting the amount of wine held in inventory at a restaurant was a common cost-control practice for "white tablecloth" restaurants after the 2008 economic recession, as consumers scaled back spending on higher-end goods. Yet the wine-list reductions noted in this survey are "unprecedented" since Winemetrics started tracking wine-distribution data in 2007 and may suggest a shift to craft beer and cocktails from wine in the casual-dining segment, according to Charles Gill, founder and CEO of Winemetrics.

“The real challenge for wine suppliers on-premise may not be expanding distribution but holding on to the placements they currently have," Mr. Gill said.

Key spirits categories grew at three times the rate of domestic table wines on-premise, while craft beer has grown annually by double digits and now accounts for 14 percent of the entire U.S. beer market, Mr. Gill said, citing industry data.

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