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




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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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U.S. Drinks Conference/U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum Plays to Packed House at WSWA

The third annual U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum was held at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America convention. The USBAF is a partnership between the WSWA and the U.S. Drinks Conference, in collaboration with Brand Action Team, Next Level Marketing and MHW, Ltd.

U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum

USDC Organizers l. to r. Mike Ginley, Jeff Grindrod, John Beaudette, Steve Raye

The Forum, held on Tuesday, April 30, was led by top opinion makers in the industry who covered topics such as trends, technology, digital marketing and distribution of wine and spirits brands in America. Over 200 delegates attended the event representing importers, suppliers, wholesalers and on – and off-premise accounts from all over the world. “We were pleased with the turnout and response from attendees,” said Steve Raye, Managing Partner of the marketing consulting company, Brand Action Team. “We received great feedback on both the session topics and speakers alike, most particularly in regard to the usefulness and practicality of the information presented.”

The conference began with an in-depth look at how brands can avoid the common mistakes made by wine and spirit brands entering the U.S. market for the first time. John Beaudette opened with a presentation on the distribution challenges new brands face when launching in the U.S., and identified current and developing solutions for successful market penetration. Beaudette was joined by TTB headquarters executive Gail Davis and United Distributors President Doug Hertz. Gail provided the audience with insight on current and potential changes impacting product labeling, and Doug identified approaches brand owners could use to maximize their chances for distribution.

The second session was moderated by Mike Ginley, Founder and Partner of Next Level Marketing, who gave a detailed overview of the structure, volume and trends of the U.S. beverage alcohol market, supported by a candid panel session led by noted mixologist, Tony Abou-Ganim.  The following session was presented by Jeff Grindrod, Managing Partner of Brand Action Team, and gave a detailed overview of emerging digital tools suppliers are using to monitor and manage growth.  The concluding session, “Digital Retail Marketing” was led by Steve Raye and provided an in-depth look at new digital and social media tools that are available to assist on- and off-premise accounts to drive customer loyalty and leverage word of mouth.  Mike Ginley of Next Level Marketing noted that the turnout was significantly increased from last year, “and we’re quite pleased with the positive feedback we received.”

Conference sponsors included Western Carriers, JF Hillebrand, Overton, Mast Capital Partners and Nixon Peabody, as well as media partners Beverage Media Group, Beverage Information Group (Cheers, Stateways, Beverage Dynamics), Tasting Panel Magazine, Bar Business Magazine.  For more information on the U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum, contact Steve Raye at Brand Action Team or visit


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BAT Adds Consumer PR Services, Opens Office in New York

We’ve just announced that we’re opening a new Consumer PR practice and plan to open an office in New York City to house it.  Amber Gallaty will head up the project.  She joins us from the Thomas Collective with a boatload of experience in wine and beer Consumer PR, event management, trade tastings and other key areas.   Location for the office is still pending, but we’ll keep you posted.

Amber Gallaty



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Meininger’s International Wine Conference

Christoph Meininger

Christoph Meininger, Publisher of Meininger’s Wine Business International

I attended the 2013 Meininger’s International Wine Conference in Düsseldorf last week and came away very impressed.  The conference takes place on the Saturday before the Sunday opening of ProWein and is a full day deep-dive into three current topics of high interest.

This year’s focus was on the China market, E-commerce and the German market.  Stevie Kim, GM of Vinitaly

Stevie Kim, MD Vinitaly

Stevie Kim, Managing Director of Vinitaly

made an energetic presentation distilled from her visits there.  Others speaking included Alberto Fernandes of Torres, Li Demei, Professor at University of Beijing, Michael Thurner of Austria’s Fine Brands,  and the irrepressible and globe-trotting Robert Joseph, editor-at-large for Meininger’s whose insightful questions and deep experience in the market helped guide the dialog. Each presentation contributed to a view of the China market which reminded me of the blind men and an elephant story…but in a good way.  The only way to understand the market is in pieces, and then putting those pieces together to understand the whole.

The China market is  huge, complicated and stratified…and rapidly morphing. The clear message from all was, don’t look at the market as “China”, but rather the many different states, regions and cities. Personal relationships, trust and “face” are at the heart of the business, and trying to force western ways is a one-way ticket to disaster.

A second highlight was a fascinating presentation by superstar winemaker Angelo Gaja translated by Willi Klinger of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board.

Willi Klinger of Austrian Wine Marketing Board, Angelo Gaja of Gaja wines

Willi Klinger and Angelo Gaja

Willi used to be the Export Director for Gaja wines so it was fun watching two old friends talk.  It was real treat to meet Angelo and his daughter Gaia.

     And speaking of legends, one of the recipients of the Meininger’s Awards at the evening function was Margrit Biever Mondavi,

Margrit Biever Mondavi receives award at Meininger's ntl. Wine Conf;

Margrit Biever Mondavi

widow of Robert Mondavi whose presence and presentation brought the house to its feet.

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Chile Sweeps the Field

Chile sweeps the continent in Most Admired Brands

Kudos to Chilean wineries Concha y Toro, Undurraga, Leyda, Santa Rita, and Cono Sur for being named the top five “Most Admired Wine Brands” in South America by Drinks International Magazine.

It’s a clean sweep of the the South American Category for the five.  And the cherry on top was that  Concha picked up the #1 Most Admired Wine Brand in the world award…for the THIRD TIME!

I’ve always gotten a smile from the Cono Sur brand.  It’s a pun in Spanish and English…Cono Sur means Southern Cone in Spanish but is a homonym for connoisseur in English.


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