Ringwood in a bid to take on Dan Murphy’s

Liquor Market’s positioning line “Low Cost and So Much More” could set the scene for a pre-Christmas booze barney as Australia’s two major supermarket giants slug it out over cut-price drinks.

It’s already caught the attention of Martin Smith, the boss of Woolworths’ $8 billion liquor retailing business, who fired the first salvo with a warning that liquor was far more competitive than grocery.

He said competition was concentrated on a small number of lines or brands, which represented the lion’s share of sales in key sectors such as beer.

Mr Smith wouldn’t chat about Liquor Market, except to say that Woolies’ Endeavour Drinks Group kept a “constant eye” on the competition.

The Wesfarmers-owned Coles has made hard work of liquor, failing to make any real dent in Dan Murphy’s’ domination of the sector with its rival big-box chain First Choice and before that its Liquorland Warehouse chain.

It’s no surprise they’ve tried to run Liquor Market under the radar and pass it off as an intelligence-gathering exercise and an opportunity to hear “what customers think” rather than the start of a new national chain.

Coles liquor boss Greg Davis said the Liquor Market test store was part of the “ongoing turnaround of the Coles liquor business”.

But he admits Coles has already collected a “huge amount of customers research” and shoppers have told it what they want.

All that’s left is for the good people of Ringwood to prove up its concept and then it can hit go.

However, Coles hasn’t provided any details on how long it will be in this testing phase or how quickly it would move to roll out the new brand and whether it would replace First Choice.

Liquor insiders have already drawn comparisons between Coles’ booze ambitions and Woolworths’ failed assault on Wesfarmers’ hardware giant Bunnings with its disastrous Masters chain.

Market watchers suggest this is why Coles wants to start small and talk down its ambitions for Liquor Market until it can prove up the concept.

Sources close to the new business suggest its aesthetic will be more like Bunnings than Masters with product ranged in boxes on pallets rather than slick display units and hipster sales staff.

“It appears to be all about bulk booze and presenting it in a cheap way that gives the impression or perception of value,” one liquor insider said.

“But the issue is, they are going to try and do a ‘me too’ when the incumbent already has the buying scale and the best sites, which makes it really hard.”

Analysts are sceptical about Coles’ latest attempt to chip away at Dan Murphy’s’ dominance.

“They’ve had trials before and we are generally sceptical on the efforts of Coles in liquor given the false starts in the past and the competitive advantage or lead that Dan Murphy’s and the broader Woolworths liquor business has,” one analyst said.

“While we don’t think Woolworths’ liquor business is as good as Bunnings, the lead they have from a competitive standpoint is quite significant.