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Is WOSA just an easy target?

You have to admire the tenacity of Su Birch. She and her team at Wines of South Africa bear the brunt of everyone’s anger when they can’t think of who else to moan at. Of course WOSA aren’t always correct in their decisions, and I have been critical of them in the past. But there is an endearing sense of humanity in their undertakings which is sometimes lacking in the slick and professional approach of some other countries generic bodies.

The long-term wisdom and benefit of generic marketing of a country’s brand is debate for another time, and one which Australia may now be wishing that they had given more time to over the past twenty years.

I have been living in London for six months, after spending five years working at a South African winery that operates in this market and experiencing the experience of the market from that perspective. But since being in the UK, I am increasingly irritated by pot shots at WOSA for that favourite old line of criticism (and one which I have used many times myself): “WOSA should be doing more to promote higher priced South African wines and get rid of our cheap and cheerful image”.

The UK is possibly the most frustrating and difficult wine market to work in. It is an overtraded, uber-competitive, confusing cross section of the planet’s vineyards, covered in untruths, loss leaders and demand for lower prices. (Scarily it has been shown to set the trend for international markets including the ‘holy grail’ of the USA, with a 5 year lag.) More than 80% of wine sales in the UK are currently through the supermarkets, and as most know, the bulk of these sales are when wines are on promotion. A producer will not get their wine onto a supermarket shelf unless they can guarantee a decent case volume. These volumes are higher than the total production of some of the producers that complain about being overlooked. When UK wine writers, from the Telegraph or Decanter through to the community papers chat about good wines to look at, these recommendations rarely go above £7.99. Of course there are a few wines on supermarket shelves selling at £20 plus. But that’s the point, most of them are sitting on the shelf. Reality.

But… WOSA doesn’t negotiate prices with the buyers. WOSA doesn’t enter into contracts with supermarkets which see SA wines on the shelf at under £5. WOSA doesn’t force producers to accept the margin busting terms from the big retailers. They will take the deal with the chains, to move those tanks of wine, and then will complain that WOSA aren’t doing enough to raise the profile of their brands. When last did you see First Cape in a WOSA event? With the limited resources that WOSA have (as they like to keep reminding everyone) they are doing some work to put the ‘better’ producers out there.

The producers need to take a good look at themselves and ask what they are doing to get their wines selling at the prices that they are asking for. Take charge of brand and most importantly get a plan in place for what you actually want to achieve in the UK.  The simple reality is that it costs a lot of money to get your wines into the market, and I am sure that there are a lot of exceptional producers from other countries who are also frustrated at the challenges of getting volume traction.

If you want your margins, you are likely going to need to head into the on-trade, which means a lot of work, and pretty small volume. Or to be quite honest with oneself, (and to borrow the title of a lecture at a WOSA conference a few years back) do you really need to bother with the UK market?

One Response to “Is WOSA just an easy target?”

  1. Dave says:

    What about wines like the Diemerfontein Pinotage or the Cafe Rouge? Chocolatey fun for everyone! Is there a reasonably-priced alternative to that sort of thing?

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