Sales ploy uncorked: buy our wine and claim it back!

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The Independent Online

A major wine supplier urged its staff to buy its own products in pubs where their drinks were being trialled - to help boost sales and secure a multimillion-pound contract.

Wine distributor Matthew Clark emailed staff asking them to buy up to eight bottles of wine each at JD Wetherspoon's pubs in Bristol - and then claim it back on expenses.

Employees were told to buy Nottage Hill Chardonnay and Shiraz, and Echo Falls - all of which are produced by Matthew Clark parent company Constellation Europe.

If each of the firm's 300 employees had "done their bit" and splashed out on eight bottles of wine, it would have increased sales by 2,400 bottles in the city's pubs - potentially tipping the balance in its favour.

The plan to artificially enhance the wine's popularity was devised as Constellation battled with rival firms for the exclusive rights to supply wine to JD Wetherspoon's 650 pubs.

The chain decided to hand its lucrative contract to the company whose wines proved the most popular during trial periods, which are due to end on 31 July.

Constellation faces fierce competition from popular brands such as Blossom Hill, Wolf Blass and Fetzer - which are also being sold at Wetherspoons during the trial in other parts of the UK.

Bosses at Matthew Clark and Constellation felt sales could do with a helping hand during the last two weeks of the trial and pleaded with staff to go out and buy its wine in large quantities.

In an email, leaked to the Bristol Evening Post, Matthew Clark managing director Steve Thompson and Peter Spencer, senior vice president of Constellation and head of UK sales, said: "To date we have had a poor response to our invitation to get all employees to visit their local JD Wetherspoons outlet and purchase Nottage Hill Chardonnay & Shiraz (and Echo Falls in the Bristol area) and reclaim via expenses.

"We would implore each of you to participate in this activity as it is vitally important that we maximise volumes during the remainder of the trial period (31st July). Line Managers, as leaders of our business, can you ensure your direct reports are aware of this activity and are participating to ensure that Constellation Europe is awarded this lucrative contract.

"There is now two weeks remaining of the trial and it is key that we pull through every bottle of Constellation wine during this period to see us over the line."

The company would have footed a bill of around £16,776 if each member of staff had bought eight bottles of wine - a small price to pay if the firm was successful in securing the contract.

A Wetherspoon spokesman said today that the figures for Constellation's wines in Bristol would no longer be taken at face value.

"We can confirm that our pubs and bars in Bristol and surrounding areas are trialling the wines which are distributed by Matthew Clark.

"At the same time other wines from different wine companies are being trialled in Wetherspoon outlets in other parts of the UK.

"It is part of a process to choose our house wine brand to be sold in the company's 650-plus pubs.

"While we are more than happy to serve employees from Matthew Clark in our pubs, we would not wish to be associated with any activities which might influence our decision on choosing the specific wine.

"The email is interesting and we will take it into account when looking at the overall picture relating to sales of wines across the UK during the various trials."

He denied the value of the contract was anywhere near the £80 million mark.

A Constellation spokesman confirmed the existence of the staff email, but said the firm would not comment further.

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