What’s wrong with the wine trade?

The basic idea for this post first popped into my head while sitting in an industry briefing at this year’s London International Wine Fair. The briefing was titled ‘It is the best of times, it is the worst of times’ and included a panel of UK industry experts who aired their views on the current situation in the market. The panel was made up of some seasoned wine industry heavyweights.

When asked to give their opinion on the title of the briefing, Kevin Shaw (owner of packaging design studio Stranger & Stranger) drew a little gasp from the assembled audience when he categorically stated that it was the worst of times. He qualified his opinion with comments on the lack of real new ideas that he was seeing at the show, a depressing attitude from the increasingly squeezed producers and an retail structure in the market that was alienating as opposed to incorporating consumers.

His view was strongly opposed by the rest of the panel, including Tesco buyer Dan Jago. The expected reasons for claiming it was the ‘best of times’ (although to be fair there was not really a middle ground option!) was that (Tesco) own brands are doing well, consumers have a huge choice of products on the retail shelves, they can get them at great prices blah blah blah.

Judging by the expressions on the faces of many of the producers at the show, I would suggest they share Mr Shaw’s opinion.

But this is not the motivation for this post. That debate just made me frustrated. However, contrasting the approaches from the various groups at the LIWF, as well as having been reminded this week through a number of articles that I have read online, a key challenge to the progress of the wine industry seems clear.

There are too many ‘wine people’ in the wine industry.

What do I mean by this? The people who are in the positions of power or who have the ability to initiate change in the broader sectors of the wine market have become ‘winified’ by years of hearing the same stuff from those who came before them. Wine lovers have often been written off as being snobs and unwilling to be swayed from their point of view. Are we not facing a similar situation when it comes to the decision makers?

As in any any industry, you need to bide your time and earn your stripes, fair enough. But it seems that in the wine trade that implies getting in line and adopting the mentality that is failing as the marketplace and consumer landscape has evolved. The wine trade is tough and it is different to other FMCG, commodity or luxury goods markets, depending where your brand is positioned. But if you can tell me why I need to have a WSET Diploma and an in-depth knowledge of the subtle differences between right bank producers before I can have an opinion on how to best engage with consumers I’ll happily get in line. Don’t tell me that we need to educate consumers or have some shmo standing in the stores to tell people about the wine. Don’t tell me that a quirky label design or a new varietal is innovation. It is not the case any more. But the winified don’t seem to see that.

Effective sales people know everything about the product that they are selling.

Effective marketers understand the way that the product makes their target audience feel, and their motivation for purchase. This means that they understand where consumers play, how they buy and where they take their cues from. They understand the relationship between brands and products. And then are in a position to adapt this to the wine trade.

Genuine fresh and innovative ideas seem rare from within the trade. Perhaps the industry as a whole would be better served looking at potential on the fringes or outside of it.

Anyway, just my thoughts. And what do I know? I can’t rattle off an explanation of the Bordeaux classification system and don’t really understand what volatile acidity is, so why should my opinion count?

2 Responses to “What’s wrong with the wine trade?”

  1. SANDI BRYANT says:

    …because it’s a champagne opinion . fresh and likely to get up a few noses!

  2. Very Alan Sugar – if you can sell, then you can sell!! Sainsbury’s tried that many moons ago – my friend went from buying Spanish & Portuguese wines one week to toilet paper the next!! Whilst I am first in the queue to demystify and un-winify, I think there may be a few shades in between your thoughts and a workable reality. But hey – what do I know either??!!