Does your winery have an effective OND plan?

Dave Barry“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.”
Dave Barry

The End of Innocence

Now that, according to Chairman Bernanke, we’re at the end of the recessionary crisis, don’t you feel like you’ve been a passenger on Ozzy Osbourne’s ‘Crazy Train,’ and at the end of the ride Axl Rose is welcoming you to the jungle. Well, if one’s to believe all the press, it has been a jungle out there. Consumer behavior has been difficult to predict, as trends in recenJulia Childt spending patterns have only now begun to make sense. Consumer credit card debt has been significantly reduced, and there’s been a concomitant raise in the rate of savings from less than 1% of income to more than 5% resulting in a noticeable drop in consumer spending. An example of the nationwide impact on dining-out is demonstrated in today’s Zagat Survey PR release ‘SF Bay Area 2009 Zagat Guide San FranciscoDiners Adjust Habits in Response to Slow Economy.’ Wine sales and wine values as a result have been flat in the latest rolling 52 weeks report. Questions still remain as to the nature of any long term shifts in behavior, and if or when there will be a return to what was viewed as normal. Some of the analysis, even by those who’s insights we’ve come to value, of the situation have been somewhat myopic. Several of the changes in wine sales and marketing that we are now experiencing are fundamental structural shifts that were both exacerbated and accelerated by the recent hard times. There has been for some time a move from traditional white table cloth dinning to a more casual dinning environment, even with the increased sophistication of American cuisine . Guest check averages grew faster than the rate of inflation as business diners supported restaurants in urban MSAs. On-premises experiences have evolved and will continue to do so. Business expense accounts have been reigned-in as T&E budgets are rationalized to revenues. While its Jacques PepinAlice Watersseems surprising that entertaining at home has increased, Faith Popcorn was talking about nesting for aging boomers a decade ago The effect that Chuck Williams, Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Alice Waters, et alia had on the American domestic cook has now made home dining chic. The shift in sales channels for premium and artisan wines from on-sale to off-sale, while well documented, has been a shift that’s been occurring for some time. A change that in part has been driven by frequently changing (desktop publishing) and more focused wine lists, and a vibrant off sale market driven by groceries, chains, club stores and innovative independents.

Let’s Get it Started

August 18th Start of Crush at Schramsberg It’s the last week in September marking the 1/3 point of the ’09 Crush. Now that some if not most of the Pinot and many of the white varietals are in-house, the seasonal harvest temperatures are starting to climb towards triple digits bringing smiles to the faces of vintners and growers throughout wine country. Most every year it’s a time of optimism, especially after what’s this year been referred to as an optimal growing season. Everybody at the winery seems busy in the pursuit of a zen-like perfection. Crews hovering over sorting tables thaRobert Conard at the C Donatieloo Winery sorting Pinot Noirt are now commonplace as all hands are on deck insuring that only optimal fruit makes it into the wine that you’ll be drinking in one to two years. Even if the hours are long and days-off are rare, it’s a vibrant time with midnight picking schedules, large farmer’s breakfasts, and plenty of beer at the end of the day. The economic panic of the last year, and the resulting decline in sales have been temporarily forgotten as all the physical and emotional energy is willingly put into the winemaking process . The intense process that is winemaking, as evidenced by the game faces displayed by winemakers, from Santa Barbara to Yakima and all the way to the North Fork of Long island, from the middle of August to the middle of December each year continues unabated until every lot is barreled down. The enthusiasm created by the annual wine grape harvest and the esprit de corps generated has often served as the launching vehicle for the important last quarter sales period. A period known within the beverage distribution industry as OND for the months of October, November and December.

Pump it Up

Judith Owen & Harry ShearerA late start to the upcoming holiday selling season has been forecasted by a number of beverage industry analysts. That may be the case, and we’ll all know soon enough. But hopefully, as the chief marketing officer your winery programing and promotions calendar is in place and ready to go on Thursday, October 1st. A reasoned look at the situation would seem to dictate that now is the time to get off your wallet and put on your seasonal game face. Differing sales channels will require unique tools structured to the idiosynchrocies of each. It will take innovative pricing structures to maximize your sales effort in Q4 of 2009. Christian Miller of Full Glass Research has shared that a recent survey of on-premises wine sales by the Wine Opinions Panel, revealed points of price sensitivity for list above $60/bottle, and $16/glass. So, depending on your resources it’s time to create programing for targeted restaurants accounts with this fact in mind. In addition to doing line-up tastings each working day at targeted restaurants, stick around for the early diners and offer an amusChuck Williams at the Maysonnave House in Sonoma, CAe bouches of a 1 oz pour of your listed or featured wine. As Chuck Willams said at the Maysonnave House this past week in Sonoma, ‘make the customer your friend.’ Also, spread your efforts across differing channels, hotels, catering, urban hot spots, large independents, ethnic cusine, entree specific and targeted lighthouse accounts. For off-sale, your POP materials, flow shelf talkers and back card should be pre-packed within the case. Provide high resolution, grabbable images on your winery web site for sell sheets, review talkers, labels bottle shots and tasting notes, etc. This will help to maximize ad placements and possible Sonoma Market Wine Displaydisplay activity. Discounting will be aggressive this OND, but you don’t have to compete with the big boys, be innovative in your tiered pricing, display allowances and use of coupons, including co-branding, non wine merchandise discounting, MIRs and occasional IRCs. Remember a basic rule in merchandising, hangers on 4-6 bottles, not on all 12 in a case. Oh, and Saturdays are great for in store tastings and/or bottle signings. If you’re relying on your tasting room and your wine club as your only DTC options, please consider the many other options available, such as third party wine clubs. This is a specific area in which sub-channel diversity will be the norm, but that’s not the case as yet. Assume the role this OND as a bleeding edge DTC leader.

Winter Song

Happy HolidaysI’ve been researching a series of articles written about the apparent market softness in the wine industry, and it seems that most of the noise is centered around the volumetric end of the business. As a small or mid-sized winery looking at flat as up, you can be much more innovative in your distribution strategy, and much more agile in the execution of your holiday marketing tactics. OND is your Crush time, so this selling season you should heed Warren Zevon’s words ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.’ The big boys aren’t sleeping at this time of year. Wineries in your competitive frame likely aren’t sleeping either. Go out there and shake a lot of hands, the hands of old and new friends. You can rest in January, at least for a few days.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.

Wine Brand Building Focus

T. Boone Pickens“The older I get, the more I see a straight path where I want to go. If you’re going to hunt elephants, don’t get off the trail for a rabbit.” … T. Boone Pickens

The Conversation

A significant portion of my current business life is involved in managing the art of conversation. I’m often talking with someone that a casual reader of the Wine Spectator or the Wine Enthusiast might consider a star in the world of wine. I don’t see this as interactions with celebrities du vin, but tend to view them as talks with friends, colleagues and/or possible business associates. These conversations often take the form of a verbal dance with the initiating party trying to elicit at no cost a magic bullet that will help their business, and I’m trying to extract what I call the ‘essential truths.’ One of my clients referred to this process as ‘dancing with the stars.’ The stars in this case are the workable ideas and probable solutions Inside the Actors Studiothat are sometimes extracted in this dance process. It is likely that if these conversations were to be viewed by an uninterested thirJohn dos Pasosd party, they would possibly be seen as some sort of Dos Passosian stream of consciousness dialog exercise at the Actors Studio. But, in fact, these oral exchanges of ideas are neither arcane nor obtuse but a defined process that has long been codified in the halls of serious business. Go back to those late night college ‘bull sessions,’ but add two decades of experience and an identifiable targeted outcome, and you’ll get the idea.

I’m not the contact at the top of most wineries CRM vendor contact lists. I’m the person that’s often called a little late to the party. Procter & Gambol Iconic CPG CompanyCalled to the party after the steam has gone out of the celebration, and the party is headed south. I’m not the expert, I’m listed after the expert. By the way, a wine business contact had a great comment in regards to ‘experts:’ “If someone tells you that they’re an expert, run the other way.” I’m the person who has gone througSummers Estate Wines Discount Couponh several business cycles. The ups, downs and the exigencies inherent in our complex and brand saturated corner of the greater CPG universe. My current conversations seem to reflect these difficult times. Often it’s about a decline in general revenues or net contribution, that’s most often attributable to increased discounting and or promotional expenditures necessitated by a soft market or aggressive competition. But becoming more common are conversations relating to a specific line item. And this is usually about a line item that was previously in balance with market demand, but production was dramatically increased on an aspirational or preferential whim. In the recent, but now past, halcyon days of conspicuous consumption, this ersatz strategy often worked, but those days are now a vague memory. This all too common wine business story never conformed to Consumer Packaged Goods marketing best practices, and has resulted to a lake of unconsumed wines. What? You hadn’t noticed. Well, vintages are starting to back-up, and your winery’s SIP (sales, inventory, Bernie Madoffproduction) report is starting to read like the fiction of Bernie Madoff’s trade confirmations. And, well like it or not, this is the lake in which we all now all find ourselves. There are obvious steps that can be taken, such as the movement of unbottled wine to bulk sales, consideration of significantly reduced FOB sales to developinPaul Mabray of VinTankg markets such as China, a reduction in the amount of wine produced in the near term, lowering domestic FOB prices and increasing promotional spend, diversifying distribution channels or calling Paul Mabray at VinTank for help in focusing on effective DTC initiatives. But, the real challenge in this broad marketplace, one not only figuratively but literally flooded with wine choices, is how to create and maintain a viable wine brand given the realities of today’s economy or the new outlook for a reshaped business world. Sound business decisions are based on good market intelligence and not on whim. The attributes of passion and vision can be the fuel to start a business, but a sound, flexible business plan is the basis for ongoing viability.

A Brief Wine Marketing Focus Case Study

Vintner Jess jackson on the cover of the Wine SpectatorMost large wineries have highly diversified product portfolios, but a few of the largest built a foundation over time by focusing on a specific niche or even a single varietal. In 1982 San Francisco based land use attorney and part time Lake County grape grower Jess Jackson found that his long time Chardonnay buyer Fetzer Vineyards had no need for his grapes. The US economy had been in decline since the 1979 energy crisis, and a significanBarney Fetzert drop in real estate values driven by a banking crisis in the saving & loan sector hit home in this time frame. Interest rates topped out at 22% driving down the value of the dollar and making imports cheeper than ever. On top of that the 1982 California wine grape crop came in at record levels, creating an instant oversupply. Jess had no home for his grapes. Lake County based winemaker Jed Steele was contracted to make 2,000 cases of Chardonnay, but there were problems and the fermentation was stuck at .5% RS. Jess liked the wine and decided to sell it. The Jed SteeleChardonnay market was small at the time. Most consumers had little experience with California Chardonnay, but Jess felt that he could sell the 2,000 cases and recoup his cost. He came up with the name Chateau du Lac, but found little interest with his presell efforts, Wine Marketer Dennis Canning was brought on board and decided to use the last names of Jess and his then wife, ergo Kendall-Jackson. In a stroke of marketing kismet the modifier ‘Vintner’s Reserve’, was added to the label. Dennis & Jess took the now labeled Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay to the market, store by store, restaurant by restaurant and quickly sold the 2,000 cases. JesJess Jacksons was now in the wine business selling Chardonnay. By 1987 the winery was selling 57,000 cases of Chardonnay  and Kendall Jackson was named the Wine & Spirits magazine Winery of the Year. By 1992 Kendall Jackson now one of Americas largest Kendal-Jackson Chardonnayand most successful wine companies, sold more than one million cases of Chardonnay. The focus from the beginning was Chardonnay, and it remains the core of the current K-J driving acquisitions, growth, capital improvements line and brand expansions that were made possible by this laser-like focus on Chardonnay. This is a story that was preceded in time by Trinchero Family Estates basing it’s success on White Zinfandel, and Ridge, Ravenswood and Rosenblum’s focus on Zinfandel. Silver Oak set the mark with a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Dehlinger with Pinot Noir, Zaca Mesa with Syrah, ad infinitum. Focus works.

Order out of Chaos

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” … Bill Cosby

FocusBased on a significant number of wine business conversations over the last three months, permit me to suggest some topics for you to consider for your next management meeting. Some very difficult decisions likely have to be made by you and your team, now. These are decisions that will perhaps determine the long term viability of you wine business. It’s not the time to waffle. If you have to take a financial hit, take it now, and then stop the bleeding. First, a plan to move excess inventory should be developed and enacted. The wine business is now primarily a push market. The pull market that may have previously driven your brand no longer exists. General discount strategies employed by major regional and national retailers have put a semi-permanent kink in the idea of wine pricing elasticity, and removed the wine consumer’s sense of urgency in purchasing your brand now that every wine is on discount. Rethink your entire strategy. Rethink your varietal line-up. Understand the uniqueness of each channel. And don’t harbor the expectation that the broad market will absorb product from your softening DTC sales. And, look at what you do best. If you make really good Pinot Noir do you really need to make that Syrah? Build your brand strategy around a point of focus. Spend time in maximizing your brand reputation and sales around this varietal, and if you have the drive maybe, just maybe, you can be a financially successful wine business.

Note: Copyright © 2009 Think Wine Marketing® All rights reserved.