States Where Supermarket Sales of Wine AND In-Store Tastings Are Allowed

States in which wine can be sold in grocery AND in-store tastings allowed off premise.

States in which wine can be sold in grocery AND in-store tastings allowed off premise.

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Article in Drinks International on entering the US market

Drinks International just ran a piece I wrote on Understanding and Appreciating the US Market…a synopsis of our reccos on how to approach this challenge.

Understanding and appreciating the US market
01 October, 2014
By Steve Raye

Guestwriter Steve Raye of Brand Action Team tells us his practical advice for exporters looking for a US importer.Steve Raye

The US may be the biggest and most attractive market in the world for export brands, but securing an importer to represent your wine, spirit or beer brand can be a daunting task. One great resource is Deborah Grey’s How to Import Wine. An Insider’s Guide. For those of you with limited time, here’s a précis of the key elements that will make success more likely.

The first is to learn and understand the intricacies of the American market and know the fundamental difference between importer and distributor to the shibboleths such as “franchise states.”

Identifying candidates is second. You can create your target list by using tools such as LinkedIn, asking your personal network for referrals and recommendations, and subscribing to industry newsletters and monitoring news of changes and relationships. Beverage Trade Network is a good tool and for larger enterprises able to afford bespoke, our ImporterConnect service may be appropriate.

You have to be specific in identifying what criteria are critical to you: size and scope including turnover, personnel resources, and national vs regional or state coverage etc. Also take into account whether the importer has a distribution arm. Some importers do, and many distributors function as importers via DI orders.

Then there is traditional versus non-traditional. By traditional we mean companies whose primary function is importing and marketing agency brands. This spans the range from transnationals such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard, to specialist importers like Palm Bay and Wm. Deutsch that specialise in certain categories and countries.

Think beyond those to alternative solutions that may be a better fit for your brand. Nationally licensed service import companies such as MHW, retail buying groups like the Wine and Spirits Guild, large state or national chains such as BevMo! and Total Wine. Consider whether setting up your own operation with a family member resident in the US makes sense, or going totally non-traditional with an e-commerce model.

All have differing strengths and weaknesses but you need to do the due diligence in exploring them to find the right strategy for you.

What’s in it for me? It’s not about you it’s about the importer. Make sure you fully understand what they are looking for. They are primarily interested in growing their business. If you can present your company as a solution to their problem, you’re much more likely to be successful. Remember, most of the people you’ll be talking to are very busy running their existing business. Generally speaking, they are not actively hunting for new brands. They may be receptive to what you have to offer but only insofar as they feel they have the expertise to develop and grow, and the brands represent unique positioning that can further their business goals.

That’s the practical side, but also consider the emotional side. You need to make sure you are “sympatico” in terms of personal chemistry, complementary business goals and operating style.

Key questions you need to investigate about them: What is their market reach, portfolio strategy, market niche? What resources do they have in terms of sales and marketing personnel, transparency in reporting, receptiveness in collaborating with you in marketing? Does their portfolio and focus fit with your US strategy?

Key questions they’ll have about you are, do your brands represent a gap in their portfolio they are looking to fill? Do you have existing U.S. volume they can take over and grow? Do your company and brands enhance their image, awareness or profitability? Are you financially sound and have a budget to invest and support the brand?

And don’t forget, finding an importer you want to talk to is step one. You’ll need a strategy to get their attention and then get a meeting. A common refrain we hear is: “I get 100 calls a week; I take less than 10, and might ultimately have a meeting with one.”

Once you have the meeting scheduled, make sure you are fully buttoned up and focused. Do your homework, take the time to investigate and learn about them so you can present your opportunity in its best light relative to their business strategy. Also, have a defined (meaning written) strategy for how and what you want to accomplish in the US.

If you do make it through the constraint of the narrow part of the hourglass, recognise the real work is just starting. You’ll need to consult an attorney with experience in wine/spirit/beer import contracts, a strategy for managing existing inventory, a plan for representation, management and oversight of the relationship, and finally, ongoing support such as winemaker visits and shared marketing support programming.

 

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K&L Blog Post Sets Boffo Box Office Record in CA

A big thank you and shout out to David Driscoll of K&L spirits for his post on Singani.  They blew through their first 10 case order by 11AM of the next day, and reordered twice more and are now our biggest account.  Kudos to Lindsay Raye and Jon Brathwaite for “directing” this premiere.

http://spiritsjournal.klwines.com/klwinescom-spirits-blog/2014/9/9/singani-63-steven-soderbergh.html

Singani 63 & Steven Soderbergh

Looking out onto Bolivian muscat vineyards.

Just when you think you’ve tasted every type of booze known to man, you discover that there are yet more regionally-specific spirits being distilled in places you’ve never considered. Like Bolivia, for example. South America is generally rum country, but in Bolivia they make a pisco-like spirit called Singani, distilled from Muscat of Alexandria grapes grown high in the Andes mountains. Seeing that Muscat is an aromatic varietal, known for its fruity and floral character, the Singani spirit distilled from it takes on many of the perfume-like elements found in the expressive grape. The result is a clean and vibrant brandy that drinks like something in between pisco and a fruity eau-de-vie.

One man who had definitely never heard of Singani was Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh, who happened to be in Bolivia while shooting his 2008 bio-pic about Che Guevara. He was given a bottle of the local spirit as a present while on the set, from which he poured himself a glass and was immediately smitten. He wanted to drink nothing else but Singani from that point on. The question, however, was how to get himself a bottle of Casa Real Singani after returning to the U.S.; a place where Singani wasn’t readily available. Never one to be intimidated by a challenge, Steven decided to take on the task himself. He would find an importer, a brand manager, a distributor, a broker, and an entire team of professionals dedicated entirely towards providing him and his friends with the Bolivian spirit, if need be.

And the fruit of that labor is finally here. Singani 63 is now at K&L: a fresh, floral, fruity spirit that brilliantly captures the essence of Muscat and mixes beautifully into a number of outstanding drinks. Just ask me—I finished an entire bottle in about 24 hours and never drank the same cocktail twice. I was so excited about my experience that I decided to get in touch with Mr. Soderbergh concerning his new Bolivian spirit, as I wanted to feature it prominently at K&L. We spoke earlier this morning about the intricate nature of the booze business and the adventures of importing liquor into the United States.

You can follow along with our conversation below:

David: We’ll often have customers at K&L who come in with a photo on their iPhone and say, “I had this wine in Italy last summer. It was great. Do you think you can order me a case?”  They don’t understand the logistics of getting booze out of one country and into another, with all the laws and middlemen that have to be involved; all the headaches. What was your initial impression about the booze business compared to what you faced bringing Singani 63 into the U.S.?

Steven: I obviously was that person you just described. I began to think, “Oh, I’ll just import Singani into the United States, no problem.” At the end of the shoot for Che so many of the crew members had gotten hooked on this stuff, it was agreed upon and assumed that I would be importing Singani to the states and we would have it on hand in a matter of months. This was obviously naïve.

So then I sat down and started to map out what the realities were in terms of first creating a special label for me; that I would have the exclusive rights to sell outside of Bolivia. We got that sorted out. Then there was the issue of what to order. How many cases? I had no sense of what was appropriate or what would be needed. While having that conversation I hired a broker to navigate the world of the ATF, and the FDA, and the TTB, and that started a very lengthy bureaucratic process. They needed a sample to test it to see what was in it, and then came the classification, which sort of baffled all of us. Then a series of phone calls in which I think they were just trying to ascertain if I was who I claimed to be; was I who I said I was, and why I was doing this.

David: And why were you doing it?

Steven: Selfishly speaking, I wanted access to it. I didn’t want to have to email a friend in Bolivia and say, “Ship me a bottle,” which could turn out horribly. I just wanted to be able to get it and I wanted to be able to tell my friends where to get it. This process ended up taking a little over five years. To get everything cleared, filed—as you know you have to apply for everything state-by-state, which is…boring.

David: Ha!

Steven: So we started that process. Finally, two years ago we had 250 cases of this stuff show up in New Jersey. Then I had to start thinking about the realities of getting this out there. I talked to my broker and my business manager and I said, “You’ve got to hook me up with someone who can tell me how this works.”  I was told I needed a brand manager, someone who brings products to market for a living. So I had a meeting with Steve Raye at Brand Action Team, and that was a very sobering three-hour meeting. If I hadn’t already had 250 cases of this stuff I might have just stopped right there.

There are ways in which this is similar to the business that I am in, and there are some very significant ways in which it isn’t.

David: There are laws that vary from market to market, what works in one state might not fly in another state.

Steven: Exactly. The idea of clicking through, ordering online, and sending bottles anywhere—this isn’t how booze works.

David: No, it isn’t.

Steven: On the one hand, for all the bureaucracy—to its credit—it’s a very tightly regulated industry. And you know what? It should be. So the time scales were sometimes frustrating, but I get it—you can’t have this industry just doing whatever it wants. What kept me going at the end of the meeting was the knowledge of what we have. We have an interesting story. Like in my business, having a good story is very important. This is a 500 year old product that hasn’t been exposed in any meaningful way outside its country of origin. The pedigree is good and the product itself is good.

David: Absolutely.

Steven: There are many products out there that do very well that aren’t that good, but with clever marketing they manage to find a foothold.

David: Yes, very true.

Steven: So we decided to treat this like an independent film. We’re going to have to zig where other people are zagging. So we started with New York, gave ourselves a time-table and a budget, and just wanted to see where it would go. Armed with a proof of concept we might be able to attract a larger distributor to eventually help. That was about a year ago. In the movie industry we would call this “forewalling,” where you rent out a theater and show your movie. So starting in January we began the New York experiment and everything started happening faster than we anticipated.

David: That doesn’t surprise me. Booze is big right now and people are looking for new things.

Steven: It didn’t surprise me that people responded to Singani because anytime I have a dark midnight of the soul moment about what I’ve gotten myself into, I go back to that first night at the start-up party for Che where my Bolivian casting director gave me a bottle as a present, and after drinking two glasses went back up to him and asked, “What is this? This is amazing.” I keep reminding myself, “If I feel that way, someone else can feel that way.” It’s the same approach you use when you make a movie or a TV show: you’re pleasing yourself first and you’re hoping that other people like what you like.

David: That’s the best possible approach, in my experience.

Steven: Soon we were able to pull in some really terrific accounts. Then this summer Steve Raye said we should send someone out West to talk about LA. I was somewhat hesitant because I was scared of our first possible setback; maybe it wouldn’t go as well as New York and I’m going to worry that the momentum’s going to stall. But we brought Lindsay Raye—Steve’s daughter—on board to work with us, and we’re now having the same success we were having in New York. Steve also felt we should capitalize on my own creative content. He said, “If you’re going to keep creating this marketing stuff it would be great because no corporation would ever let anything like this through. It’s too weird” He thought it was hilarious. He said, “You’re not only the face of the brand, you’re also the voice and it feels as if someone is talking directly to you.” You know what I mean?

David: Yes, of course. Everything you’re talking about represents that most important part of my job—being a direct voice to consumers that comes from a real person. It’s tough to keep that up though.

Steven: Right! The key now is me being able to maintain the creative control that I’ve maintained up until now. I’m prepared to do that and keep this material ready to roll out. Luckily though, a friend did me a big favor and gave us a very prominent placing in Gone Girl, which will be out in a few weeks. He called and asked me to send him a few bottles. Then a few days later he sent me a screen grab back with a picture of Ben Affleck sitting at the kitchen table with the bottle sitting right next to him. So that was a very nice thing for David (Fincher) to do.

David: That is a very nice thing for him to do. But you know I’m going to take that as a personal challenge to see who can sell more bottles of Singani: David Fincher and Ben Affleck with their movie, or K&L with the Steven Soderbergh interview.

Steven: Well we’ll see (laughs). I’m not sure Ben was aware that he was about to be the Trojan Horse for Singani, but he’s about to find out.

David: What is it about Singani that you like so much?

Steven: Here’s the thing: I’m a professional. I like to drink and I like to try new stuff. I’m typically a vodka drinker—that’s sort of my default, my go-to. Learning about the industry, what you’re allowed to say and what you’re not allowed to say, has been very interesting. There is a grey area in terms of describing the effects that a spirit may have on you, which is what I enjoy about it. Two things struck me immediately about Singani. I took the bottle, opened it, poured it on ice and was struck by the bouquet of it, and the very subtle floral nature. The other thing I noticed was how easy it was to drink. That really surprised me. This is hard liquor. It shouldn’t go down that easily. I discovered that I could really just drink this stuff like water.

David: I emptied that sample bottle you gave me in less than 24 hours. A personal record, for me.

Steven: Yeah, it just goes down. What I found, and what my camera department found—we all just started drinking this stuff like crazy—was that the next day we were not hurting.

David: No hangover.

Steven: That was our experience. The next morning we were fine.

David: It’s so clean. There are no additives, or coloring agents, or sweeteners. It’s simply distilled from grapes. That makes sense.

Steven: I’ve been lucky my whole life. Insanely lucky. Like I’ve just had weird, coincidental connections take place that mathematically were just astronomically remote. I’ve been in the right place at the right time, I’ve known the one person that I needed to know, and in this case—as we got further and further into preparation for the market—I realized how lucky I was that Singani has this amazing history, that the production is so unique. It has this very small parcel of land in the Andes where you have to use this one grape in this one region in order to call it Singani—I didn’t realize that until later researching how it was actually made. Then later, even though the TTB brandy categorization was confusing at first, it turned out to be a great category for us because there was little competition for other white spirits.

David: Right, you’ve got pisco really—that’s it.

Steven: If they had called it pisco I’d be going head-to-head with other marketing companies that have way more experience than I do. We’re a very unique brandy. It’s not a vodka, or a rum, or another category with tons of money and big companies going toe-to-toe.

David: Well, another way in which you have a very distinct advantage is that you’re coming at this with a fun concept, while remaining focused on the historical specifics. There are so many spirits in the market today that focus only on the specifics and very little on the fun. You’re doing a very good job at keeping both at the forefront, which seems easy, but very few companies are doing it.

Steven: I feel like when I look at how other people bring their products out—at the ads and the image they present of their product and what they want people to think about it—one of the things I noticed is everyone is focused on “cool” instead of “fun”. I thought this is where we are really going to zig where other people zag. I wanted to make people smile. All the materials we have are fun and put you in the frame of mind that the drink itself does—after you’ve had a couple. Plus, we’re not in a hurry. I’d rather see this happen right, than happen soon. I don’t have a timetable for this; it’s just me.

David: And, trust me, customers can smell that desperation when it’s present.

Steven: Right, I don’t think people like being shouted at, or pushed in a way that feels like you’re not allowing them to go at their own pace. I’m fascinated now by this whole cocktail and booze world that has exploded over the last decade of both boutique spirits and mixology. This stuff is really blowing up!

David: Right, David OG and I have made our careers out of that.

Steven: When I was learning to drink there wasn’t this much excitement about booze. There were the staple spirits and that was it. It’s interesting how diverse and complex this industry has become.

David: So when are you going to make a documentary or a movie about booze?

Steven: We did hire someone to shoot photos and videos of our last bottling run. Maybe when we do our next order I can go back to Bolivia myself and shoot some stuff. When we were there shooting Che we got to meet with Evo Morales—the president of Bolivia—who’s a fascinating guy. My goal is to go back and get a picture of me, him, and a bottle of Singani. That’s my holy grail. That would be awesome.

David: So has this experience changed the way that you drink? Do you care more now about what’s in your glass?

Steven: I think about it more, for sure. The best news for me is that I can get Singani now, seeing that I love it so much. It’s interesting because Che was the first time I used the special RED camera, and when I first used it I said, “This is literally the camera I’ve been waiting for my whole life.” At the same time I discovered and also felt the same about Singani. I said, “This is the drink for me. It’s exactly what I want. This is my desert island spirit and it’s just by chance that I ran into it.” Now I can get it. In fact, I went to the store just a few days ago to buy more.

David: To K&L in Hollywood?

Steven: Yes, I said, “Give me six bottles.” Now I don’t have to have it shipped from New York. I can just go down the street. I’ve shopped at K&L for as long as it’s been around, so to be able to go into my neighborhood store and see my bottle on the shelf, that’s fantastic. It’s sort of the equivalent of seeing the poster for your movie up at a theater that you’ve gone to your whole life. That’s what it felt like. In fact, I need to go back there and take some pictures.

David: Hopefully we can do more than just put it on the shelf. It really deserves a big fuss. It’s a very tasty, versatile spirit that I think has a great potential to crossover in a number of different ways.

We currently have Singani 63 on the shelf in the Hollywood store and there’s a huge drop on the way to NorCal for the weekend. I’m very excited to be a part of working with Steven’s team and I look forward to putting the bottle in the hands of our customers. It’s one of the more fun and exciting new products I’ve come across in some time.

Singani 63 Bolivian Muscat Brandy $29.99

-David Driscoll

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Great story today in the Huffington Post clarifying (!?) the various state laws regarding purchase of beer, wine and spirits in supermarkets.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/26/here-are-all-the-states-t_n_5710135.htm

AlcoholGroceryStores_Wine2

AlcoholGroceryStores_Liquor3AlcoholGroceryStores_Beer3

 

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Steve Speaks at ECRM Panel

ECRM is a really interesting trade show held annually in San Diego in August.  It’s unusual in a couple of ways.

(l. to r.)   Miguel Lugo of Park Street Imports, XXX of RaceTrac, Meridith May of Tasting Panel/Somm Journal, Steve Raye, Sam Lindsley Symon Restaurants

(l. to r.) Miguel Lugo of Park Street Imports, Joe Johnson of RaceTrac, Meridith May of Tasting Panel/Somm Journal, Steve Raye, Sam Lindsley Symon Restaurants

First, it’s different in terms of it being more like ProWein/Vinitaly/Vinexpo than WSWA.  By that I mean its focus is to connect on and off premise buyers, principally national and regional accounts, with sellers.  In this case sellers included importers, wineries, distilleries, multinational bev. alc. companies, generics/regional and country trade promotion agencies.

Second, the model is speed dating with individual pre-arranged meetings, in contrast to more traditional exhibit halls and walk around tasting events.

Those differences are critical to making ECRM one of the more productive trade shows I’ve seen.  Productivity measured in terms of serious buyers sitting down with serious sellers with the mutually understood and expressed interest in doing business.  “Random” and “Casual” are definitely not part of the lexicon here.  Everyone who attended was focused on specific business needs and an effort to understand and identify prospective partners.

The first question I fielded was in regard to technology that I’ve found most helpful for brands that want to have access to U.S. distribution.  Those of you who know me, know that I could do a solid 2 hrs. on just the access question alone.  Here though, my response was that technology is really just a tool, not an end in itself.  And what it is allowing is a tremendous shift in access to information and education in the industry.  The bottom line being  that technology has evened the playing field for small players to go toe-to-toe with the big boys.  Mastering social media, engagement, and dialog is significantly more powerful than traditional paid media budgets, and can create a competitive edge.  The better a brand understands, engages with and relates to their audience, the more powerful that audience can be in building a brand.

Trade marketing was another subject the panel discussed, and one that we passionately promote as a competitive advantage for brands.  One key piece of advice we offer to new brands is to not market to empty shelves.  Getting distribution  in place is a critical first step before you can begin brand activation.  If you can come up with creative ways to link them together AND bring the trade into the equation, the results can be extraordinary.  We’re doing that right now with a new product called Singani 63 from Bolivia.  One of the key accomplishments to date is that we are on the drink menu at 36 off the 42 high visibility on-premise accounts we’re in distro at in NYC.  Places like PDT, Milk & Honey, Little Branch, Dream Downtown and SoHo Grand.

Equally important was finding out the POD that MAD…the Point of Difference that Makes a Difference.  It’s all built around the authenticity of a product with a totally unique flavor profile and back story that really resonates with mixologists and bartenders.  Couple that with the receptivity and interest in craft spirits, and a 500 year history providing authenticity, add a bit of the story of “Terroir” or sense of place for a spirit, and then present the brand to the trade in an interesting, engaging and creative way and you’ve got a recipe for success.  (It also helps to have an Academy Award winning director behind the brand functioning as creative director and copywriter)

 

 

 

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Tales of the Cocktail 2014

We attended Tales of the Cocktail 2014 last week along with Anthony King of BAT and Jon Brathwaite of Singani 63.  Here are my big takeaways:

  • Next year I want Steven Soderbergh to be invited to be on Paul Clarke’s panel on the emergence of Brandy, Pisco, and Singani.  This year Alex Day Death & Co. bartender turned bar owner and mixology impressario, Duggan McDonnell of Encanto Pisco, and Alexandre Gabrielle of Cognac Ferrand.  Paul is editor of Imbibe.Paul Clarke panel - Copy
  • The big international spirits companies dominated the evening parties and events. Each year the challenge is to top the year before, and stand out from the others.  Absolut did a carnival theme at Mardi Gras World that was great, and Wm. Grant took over the Lakefront airport with an Arabian nights theme, complete with sand, desert tents and a live camel.

    Wm. Grant party featured an Arabian Nights theme complete with sand, Bedouin tents and a very sociable camel.

    Wm. Grant party featured an Arabian Nights theme complete with sand, Bedouin tents and a very sociable camel.

  • Bartenders embrace craft, but tend to follow trends…there was a waiting list to get into the Fernet Branca tasting room
  • Brands need to be non-traditional in everything you do to get credibility with mixology-inclined bartenders…wholesalers you use, how you work brand ambassadors, the kind of support you provide, engagement with the bartending community.
  • Lots of talk (and joking) about the tsunami of “Brand Ambassadors” who have swamped the market.  It used to be a point of difference, now it’s a requirement, but potentially perceived as a negative if you don’t train them right and arm them with the right tools, tasks, funds and goals.
  • Bartenders have a LOT of tattoos, gauge/piercings, beards, funny haircuts and like to wear fedoras, skinny jeans and Chucks
  • Creatively leveraging the trade should be a core strategy to craft brands.  Must act and do things differently.
  • Tales participation for new/smaller brands:   focus on tasting, less brand promotional than “discovery”, facilitate awareness and some sort of action by and oriented specifically to bartenders.

 

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ImporterConnect program successful for Wines from Spain’s Spanish Wine Cellar Event

We recently completed a project for Wines from Spain (see release below) using the ImporterConnect database.  The program was a great success with six brands in negotiations with prospective partners and one handshake deal for a 3 container order.

Individual tables were set up for one on one meetings between importers and wineries

Individual tables were set up for one on one meetings between importers and wineries

What was most significant was that we changed the paradigm of how wineries-seeking-importers events are held.  The solution was to set up one-on-one dedicated meetings with importers and wineries using a rigorous database matching system….think eHarmony as a model.

In addition to the matching piece, we also predicated the project on making sure the wineries were educated on the intricacies of the U.S. three-tier system.  So a key part of the program was to hold a 1.5 hour webinar with all the wineries, with attendance a mandatory part of participating in the US event.  We got great feedback that the webinar in and of itself was extraordinarily valuable to the wineries, not only in terms of the content per se, but also being able to set proper expectations for the whole process.

This was followed by a 1-hour consult with each of the participating wineries.  We discovered the real value of that was not just further education on the US market, but the opportunity for us to understand what their “Point of Difference that Makes a Difference” was.  Those POD’s were focused on one of our other favorite acronyms:  WIIFM (What’s in it for me?)  We helped each winery come up with a simple 3-5 bullet positioning as to why their winery made sense to be considered by the importers…how the winery would fit the importers and help the importer grow their business.

We’ll be following up with the wineries throughout the course of the year to monitor and measure results.

Jim Donahue of Winam Wines talks with prospective winery.

Jim Donahue of Winam Wines talks with prospective winery.

 

 

 

 

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News from Napa, BAT’s POV

Some interesting new info picked up in Mark Brown’s Industry News Update today via Drinks Business in the story  below.  Sandy definitely has his finger on the pulse of the consumer, particularly those at above-casual-dining level.  I think the “stories” thought is particularly important.  Think teasers or short stories on the back label, with links online (from/to?) more online.  Example.  Wine profiles are UGC (user generated content) on Snooth, one of the more popular wine websites which gets 1.5MM visitors per month.  Brand owners control the message and can integrate marketing into the profiles.  You could institutionalize stories in Snooth, content which can then get scraped or promoted out to other reference sites such as the many apps that are gaining traction in the US.

Repeatable/tweetable/postable anecdotes can turn an unfamiliar wine into an in-the-know recommendation.

One addition to the trend list…we’ve seen a steady and significant growth in the popularity of red blends.

Napa forum MW asks ‘is wine still cool?’

30th June, 2014 by Catherine Seda Bugue

A group of 80 winemakers, winery marketing representatives and media gathered at the Harvest Inn in Napa Valley’s St. Helena this month for the second annual Wine Conversations: A Global Tasting and Marketing Forum.

Sandy Block, MW, Legal Sea Foods Beverage Director (higher end, East Coast restaurant chain) started by apologising for the negative outlook he was about to share. While wine sales look bright, Block says, there is strong competition in the east coast restaurant market from craft beers and spirits. Cocktails are considered ‘cool’ by the front line gatekeepers, restaurants’ servers. Many of them are in their 20s and find cocktails exciting, leading to recommendations in this beverage category. With beer, their seasonal offerings (i.e., summer blondes, spicy and nutty autumn brews) are particularly popular, giving that beverage segment an added boost. Plus, with each of these other categories, there is no need to learn vintages or worry about corked wines.

Is wine still cool?, Block asked employees across numerous Legal Sea Food restaurants. Those on the front line are not so sure. Staff comments from the survey show they believe:

  • you need specialised knowledge to recommend wine
  • wine is difficult to learn; a bother
  • wine is a grown-up drink, not fun
  • it is too expensive to learn about wine

On the other side of the table, surveys of guests by Legal Sea Foods show that diners want an experience they can’t easily duplicate at home. They believe anyone can buy a bottle of wine, but not everyone can make today’s fancy cocktails at home, so they order cocktails when they dine out.

The desire for experiences and entertainment by diners is a culinary trend that followed the market downturn in 2008, says Block. Before the crisis, the restaurant industry worked under the belief that restaurants existed to provide sustenance – great food and wine. Not anymore, he says. Restaurants are in the entertainment business. Key elements now include: socializing, interaction, and entertainment by staff.

Customers want memorable experiences; they want to watch their cocktails being created (all the better with a bit of theatric flair) in what Block calls ‘the new era of cooking table-side.’

In addition to visualising beverage creations, Block said guests are looking for stories, and conversations with the servers and other restaurant staff. They want ‘take-away’ snippets that they can later share with friends. The conversation can be as simple as a beverage recommendation, something to retell friends over the same drink at some future get-together.

Providing a few factual numbers, Block says that Americans currently eat one-half of their meals out of the home. The annual number of restaurant visits is 60.66. Chain restaurants are 73% of the total visits.

As shared by Block, the percentage of wine sold in restaurants as opposed to other beverages:

  • 2007 51% by value, 23% by volume
  • 2013 44% value of U.S. sales, 19% vol total U.S. sales

(Beverage Info Group, 2013)

Finishing with five-year tends garnered through sales at Legal Sea Foods, Block noted:

  • Blandness is out – which means pinot grigio is out. Sales are down -22%
  • Sauvignon Blanc is up 33%, and continuing to rise
  • Chardonnay is down -6% and continuing to decline
  • Merlot is down – 40%
  • Shiraz is down -55%
  • Malbec is up 59% but levelling off and showing some decline
  • Pinot Noir is up 31% (deemed flavorful)
  • Cabernet Sauvignon is up 22%
  • Bubbles are up 42% and rising.
  • Tasting flights are in.
  • Half bottles are hot (note to producers: Legal Sea Foods would sell more if they could get more).
  • When wine is displayed at the bar, wine orders go up; they are a conversation piece. Wines, not just spirits and liquors, sell more when they are visible.
  • No one seems to be excited about wine on tap – there is no conversation about it, good or bad. Consumers are looking for quality and natural products; they don’t care how it comes.
  • Don’t brand push; people hate it. Memorable stories will stick.
  • Winemaker dinners remain popular, despite the negative outlook on wine in general; meeting a winemaker is still a big draw for consumers as it gives them a great story to tell.
  • All about ‘authentic, natural’ – consumers want natural beverages

 

 

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Meet Steven Soderbergh at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Industry Invitational

Attending the Manhattan Cocktail Classic’s Industry Invitational?  If so, please make plans to stop the Singani 63 booth and say hello to Steven Soderbergh.Steven Soderbergh

 

 

 

 

Steven discovered Singani while filming the movie Che! in Bolivia.  He fell in love with the product and has been on an “adventure”, perhaps better titled and odyssey, to bring it to the U.S.

Brand Action Team has been brought on board to lend a bit of industry brand management expertise to the enterprise, and I have to say, it’s been a blast.  Along with our Brand Ambassador Jonathan Brathwaite, we’ve been rediscovering that it doesn’t take millions of dollars to successfully launch a spirits brand.  An Academy Award winner behind the brand helps, as does the magic fairy dust that seems to surround this product.  (and no, I’m specifically not alluding any drugs that may come from this part of the world.)s63bottle_straight_noshadow_CMYK_hires

Industry folks are invited to visit us at the MCC on Sunday May 11 at Convene, 12 Old Slip in NYC.  Steven will be there from 1-4PM.  Please stop by and say hello.

 

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Distributor Consolidation Continues

The consolidation of distributors in the wine and spirits industry continues as evidenced by Impact’s latest data as of April 2014.

Distributor consolidation 1-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

US Wine and Spirit Distributor top 10

US Wine and Spirit Distributor top 10

 

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