The Conversation

Naked City Detectives, Harry Bellaver, Paul Burke, & Horace McMahon“There are eight million stories, in the Naked City. This..has been one of them.”Stirling Silliphant (The Naked City ABC TV series 1958-63)

The Rain

The sound of rain, and just not the sound of rain falling, but the sound of people talking about the rain at the end of what had may just have been the perfect vintage, seemed to divert attention away from the economy, at least for the time being. While the rain, and all the wine country conversations that the rain started, provided a welcome relief from the constant drone that it’s hard out there. It’s really not the time to take your eye off the ball and to forget the market challenges inherent since the onset of the ‘Great Recession.’ For each winery and each winegrower or vineyard owner there’s an unique story. The folks on the flats in mid-Napa Valley likely had a different take on this year’s growingDoug Shafer giving his take on Vintage 2009 season weather than the folks in Calistoga, Carneros, the Vaca or Mayacamas ranges, or in Western Sonoma County, Mendocino, the Willamette Valley, Walla Sun and rain in Oakville, CA looking at the RObert Mondavi Tokalon VineyardWalla or in Santa Barbara. While each unique story suggest a similar outcome, this is a vintage that will unfold over the next several years. Perhaps the critics will pronounce estimates of Vintage of the Century or speculate that the rain has dashed all hopes for a positive result. Perhaps I lack the prescience or the hubris to judge the future of an entire vintage during harvest and crush, but I do have an understanding that a vintage is the sum of the individual experiences of each participant. And, I have an understanding that it’s in the telling of your story that will connect you to your customers.

The Bounce

In this brave new world of permission marketing, and in this time of growing consumer detachment and cynicism driven by the perceived systemic failure of our financial and Henry Paulson,  Bush Treasury Secretary governmental institutions, a review of your traditional marketing message methods has been necessitated, even as the mixed message on the state of the economy is being delivered by traditional mass media. A mention of the names Paulson, Geithner, and AIG tend to initiate a gag reflex in even the most jaded observer. However, today the DowTimoth Geithner, Obama Treasury Secretary Jones Market Index reached a 12 month high and once again climbed above 10,000, in part driven by reports that Goldman Sachs made record profits in Q3. Also noted as a sign that the climb from the bottom is underway are stories in Ad Age Talent Works that Google is Hiring again; and The New York Times reporting that Apple profits are up 47% on Strong Mac Sales. The story on the state of the wine business is even more mixed. Like the citizens of the Naked City, each wine business has its own story, some up by 10%, some flat, and some down 30%. Many wineries are going through an extended period of stress. Vic Motto, Co-Founder, Chaiman and CEO of Global Wine Partners, a St Helena, CA wine industry iBank recognizes the industry wide stress; but, doesn’t see a significant long term dislocation in wine consumer’s buying behavior. Having heard the sea change story before, most recently with the Vic Motto, CEO and Chairman of Global Wine Partnersprediction that Two Buck Chuck would drive consumers permanently away from luxury wines. Didn’t happen. It’s Mr Motto analysis that the American wine consumer is ‘aspirational’ and that wine is and will be viewed as an ‘affordable luxury.’ I’m also in the camp that believes wineries that survive this very tough period will likely, at some point, see a return to the pre-recessionary trends in buying patterns. In an October 15th Associated Press interview, Safeway CEO, Steve Burd sees signs of the turnaround in an uptick in the coffee sales mix and a move back to growth in the premium wines segment.

The Conversation

Technology has provisioned wine industry CMOs with a whole new marketing tool kit. Technology is a tool to be used and appreciated, but not one to be viewed as the long hoped foThe CLUETRAIN Manifestor silver bullet. How we now communicate with our customers has dramatically changed with the development of the web, email, texting, blogs, video, Facebook and Twitter. And in this new paradigm there are three words that have become the mantra of this new technological world in which we all now communicate our stories: transparency, authenticity, credibility. I’d like to add one word, human. This commonsense point was first made in ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto,’ by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Wineberger, first online in 1999 then in print in 2001, Copyright © by Basic Books. BTW: a 10th Anniversary edition of this must read biz book is now available. While the 10 year timeframe has dated some of the jargon, the core concepts of the treatise remain, especially those listed in the seminal 95 THESES:

  1. Markets are conversations
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice

The first five points in the “Cluetrain’ 95 THESES are a construct that is now an unavoidable communications directive for your consumer facing business. People grow your grapes. People make your wine. People sell your wine, and people buy your wine. Your story, while sharing traits with almost all others in wine’s corner of the CPG market, is unique to your circumstances.

The Case Study

Mike BenzigerIt was harvest time in the fall of 1994. Mike Benziger came out of the winery office to check on the grapes to judge when to start picking on the Family’s Estate Vineyard, located in a collapsed caldera on the Sonoma Valley side of the old dormant Sonoma Mountain volcano. Times were good. The vineyard was always busy from the days of the Glen Ellen Winery start-up through the launch of the premium value tiered Benziger Family Winery. Wines that always over delivered. Mike should have been smiling, but instead he looked troubled. He cocked his head as he stood on the edge of the vineyard, puzzled that he heard nothing. Nothing at all. Just up the hill at his home in Jack London State Park, he rememberedBenziger Family Winery Ariel Shot hearing birds chirping madly as the sun broke through the morning fog. But as he looked down the neatly groomed rows of vines, he noticed that there wasn’t a wild flower, a weed or a blade of grass on the bare dirt underneath the vines. As he walked the rows, Mike noticed that there were no bugs on the vines or flying through the air, no dragonflies, no butterflies. Stopping and reflecting he knew what was bothering him, the vineyard was no longer a living space. Mike thought a moment and considered his options. He knew that this wasn’t the way things should be. At that moment in time he vowed to change the way things had been done, to change the conventional wisdom of how things had always been done. This ancient bowl had supported life Benziger Family Winery Bloggers Visitfor millions of years, and in just a decade of intensive modern farming that had all changed. But, it wasn’t working any longer, and the Benziger farming practices needed to revert to the old ways, to the ways defined by closed system agriculture. Benziger Vineyards needed significant cultural change to recreate a new living farm. And change they did, after 3 years of concentratedThe Insectary at Benziger Family Winery study, a sustainable, biodynamic vineyard started to take shape. The first step was to establish biodiversity. So island gardens were established within the vineyard space to help support beneficial insects; and between every 10th vine row a bed of host plants and flowers were seeded to support a vineyard population of the good guys. Sheep and cows were introduced as natural lawn mowers, with their waste the base of a closed system compost program, so that no chemical fertilizers would ever be needed or would ever be used. Land that was dead just ten years ago was, in less than a decade, now a classic biodynamic closed system living farm. Earth, nature and man came together in a special place that happens to be in my backyard, just north of the town of Sonoma.

Mike Benziger & Kathy Benziger Threlkeld talking with the wine bloggersOn Saturday, October 3, 2009 I had the opportunity, along with a group of wine blogger colleagues, to hit the Benziger Biodynamic Trail at the Benziger Family Winery on Jack London Ranch Rd, just up the hill from the village of Glen Ellen. Our tour group had the opportunity to interface with Mike BenzigerKathy Benziger Threkeld, Colby Eirman, Director of Gardens, and Winemaker, Rodrigo Sotto. The passion in the delivery, even from the well practiced folks at Benziger, was  impressive, especially in closeColby Eirman, Director of gardens at Benziger family Winery quarters over 3 hours. This was a one-on-one conversation and the telling of the story, starting with that moment of enlightenment in 1994. There wasn’t any ducking questions in the active exchange of ideas. We weren’t being sold on a story. We were being invited into an experience. This was a conversation between humans. A few points really stuck with me. The first was that ‘the wines weren’tRodrigo Soto, Winemaker at Benziger Family Winery necessarily better, but that they were different.’ That they reflected this place. The second point that hit a nerve with me was that ‘each year the wine was a time stamp of the vintage.’ Not once were scores mentioned as a descriptor of any of the Benziger grown and produced wines that we tasted that day, although the Rodrigo Sotto’s wines have gotten rave reviews and scores in the traditional wine press. My take away from the day with the Benziger Family and team members was one of transparency, authenticity, and credibility. A team that understood that their plan, in a world now dominated by pull marketing, was that by communicating in this human voice missionaries were created, replicating the message and influencing friends.

The grandchildren of the founder of Park Benziger & Company, and the children of the founder of Glen Ellen Winery, Bruno Benziger are well versed in the finer points of wineNow that's biodynamic, at Benziger Family WInery marketing. But, change must be in their DNA. First selling Glen Ellen, then converting a 200,000+ value brand to a slightly more than 110,000 caseMike Benziger pointing out the native raptor population at Benziger Family Winery sustainable, biodynamic super-premium/luxury brand, while changing their farming practice as stewards of the land. In a time of declining circulation numbers and disappearing newspapers, an effort has been made to maintain contacts with the traditional press, in both the wine and consumer lifestyle focused print media arenas. The Benziger marketing team has fully embraced new media, including Twitter, and wine bloggers. Benziger POS is also available as an online deliverable, further enhancing the green story, while insuring the timely delivery of product sheets, neckers, sell sheets and cut case cards on an as needed by market basis. If you go to the Trade/Media section of the Benziger web site, you can download the Chris Benziger narrated video sales presentation which is a masters class in wine brand marketing. And, if you ever find yourself near Glen Ellen, stop-in and take the tour. As a small family wine marketer, you need to identify and mirror the success stories. The Benzigers have successfully differentiated their wine brands in this difficult, brand saturated market. And, by the way, their wines just aren’t different, the Benziger wines exhibit a specific point of view and IMHO are damn good.

The Story

Mike Benziger in the wine caves at Benziger Family WineryThe Benziger family and team recognized that their best path to the market was through their authentic story told in a human voice to groups of consumers, members of the trade, and to traditional and new media writers. A story that has been replicated to the point that in 2008 almost 175 million media impressions were created. Even though the Benzigers produce in their Demeter Certified Winery 1.32 million bottles of wine, the consumer impressions and strong word of mouth campaign along with a vibrant visitor center program help to create demand beyond the produced supply.  Through their objective mastery of pull marketing tactics, tactics based on an authentic and credible story, the Benzigers have been able to not only create an awareness envied by any enterprise wineco, but a model for any family wine business. The question that now begs to be answered: what’s your story and what are your winery’s marketing plans to maximize brand awareness and sales in what continues, even as the turnaround starts, to be a challenging marketplace?

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

Is The Medium the Message?

Marshall McLuhan“Obsolescence never meant the end of anything. It’s just the beginning.”
… Marshall McLuhan

The opening talk by Paul Wagner of Balzac Communications at the recent kickoff meeting at the St. Helena based CIA’s Rudd Center of the reenergized Academy of Wine Communications was filled with promise.Academy of Wine Communications Promise tempered by concern. Concern that the world of winery public relations was changing, and it was changing fast. How we all communicate our messages and to whom is in a state of flux. Our own local major urban newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to wine coverage. While the articles and reviews are still top flight, the once dedicated wine section no longer makes economic sense in a world where news, reviews and information availability is ubiquitous anywhere where there is an internet connection. Having been around for awhile, I’ve discovered that change is good for the soul. It’s adapt or perish. Old dogs can and must learn new tricks.

aka Bistro, St HelenaToday at lunch in St. Helena, I couldn’t help but notice the number of smart phones, netbooks and laptops that were visible and in use. The discussion of the decay of manners in American society is a topic for another’s blog, but the use of technology is here and it’s how we now talk with each other. Technology enables how we get and filter our daily information. My invitation to lunch was in the form of a text message sent from a client’s Blackberry to my iPhone, and my response was in kind. We both knew several people in the crowded room, so after the check was paid, we took the opportunity to network. Networking in the old school sense by shaking hands and swapping stories. My host became involved in a longer conversation, so I thought I would do some market research. Alaptop keyboard couple from South Africa was teleconferencing with their winery staff on their MacBook Air laptop. The honeymooners from Florida were posting pictures of their lunch on Facebook for their friends and family back home. The young women from the New York distributor, on an educational trip to the Napa Valley, were documenting lunch and the local wine choices on their company blog. The local vineyard owners were texting details of their luncheon deal back to their CFO. The room was abuzz, and the restaurant was mentioned to countless contacts around the States and around the world.

Reading the NewspaperIt is an incontrovertible fact that we are in an age of permission marketing. Consumers choose what message or marketing centric handshake to accept. We have to ask and answer the question as to what now works, and how do we track the metrics of Public Relations success in this new, new world. How can we still control the substance and intent of our brand messages? Do the number of mentions and the old circulations numbers still function as the measure of success? And, if now, what about tomorrow? The rise of social media and the conversations of wine bloggers, wine forums and the active wine community on Facebook and Twitter are in fact being tracked by Cruvee. Batchbook, a small company contact manager CRM has developed a social media interface that allows registered users to read what their clients are saying on social media networks about their brand(s)., the cloud CRM application has added a module offering clients the abilitytwittering to listen and interface with their customers on Twitter. So, it is now possible to initiate communications initiatives within specific targeted communities and then track and document the specific resultant metrics via Cruvee, or the appropriate hosted CRM. I happen to think this is more accurate and more effective than a review or a story in a classic metropolitan newspaper, where the accepted metrics were, in my opinion, perhaps more nebulous, by tracking insertions and assuming circulation numbers equaled reads. Of course the numbers won’t look as good, but we are now actually narrowcasting to an identified set of wine consumers rather than broadcasting. If we do this in a limited set of markets, then an ROI can be established by tracking the effect on wine sales within the defined geographies over a 30 day followup period.

Rutherford GrillTraditional CPG best marketing practice must carry the day without regard to the communications medium utilized. In a conversation at the Rutherford Grill,after the AWC meeting and reception, with two giants in winery PR, Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald it was agreed that times have changed, but that the basics have remained the same. The story to have value and to create interest must be unique,Jim Caudill replicable, visceral and verifiable. There must be an objective beyond just awareness. It has to be about managing your winery and your brand(s) reputation. Specific objectives for your communications program must be established and objective points of achievement must be tracked. Action without accountability is likely devoid of merit. Key communication points must be defined and repeated as part of your winery message throughout all tiers, all channels and all outlets. Listen to the pros, incorporate their ideas, and you’ll be effective in achieving your planned programs.

Inconsistency just doesn’t work in winery PR. In my time in the ether of social media, I have witnessed some egregious breaches Twisted Oak Signof sound public relations communication principles. Making the effort and then bailing seems to be worse than not making the effort at all. To be effective in your social media or traditional media engagement efforts it is important to be interesting, consistent, honest, transparent, and personable. The feedback from those in the know is that the format for conversation has changed, the rules of interface have changed, but the idea of

Jug Shop Pinot Days Promotionbest practices remain.There are many wineries and wine shops that do this job well: Twisted Oak, Hahn, St. Supery, The Jug Shop, Domaine547, Winery Collective, Walla Walla Wine Woman, and of course Bin Ends Wine, founders of Taste Live, to name a few. Hahn and St Supery have established the role of social media management as a key winery functional area. With the advent of the the Really Goode Job promotion, the industry has had the opportunity to identify a number of very talented individuals on Murphy-Goode’s bank. It is my fervent hope that many or most of these individuals, finalist or the overqualified, are offered wine industry PR positions.

In spite of the spate of current conversations and all of our observations of old media hand wringing, traditional print media is not yet dead. Perhaps they’re under the weather with a serious case of where are we now introspection. Each week in my iMac mailbox I receive an update from Wine Opinions listing wine reviews and stories that have been printed in major urban USA newspapers. Wine Opinions has also recently identified key wine bloggers and listed key stories covered in this emerging universe. Anyone in the wine business  who has worked with or talked to a wine distributor sales person in current times understands the functional role of reviews. Good to great reviews raise the awareness of your winery or brand with the first line of gatekeepers, and function as virtual key masters unlocking access to the market. So, don’t throw away or demean this still important point of market information.

Imagine How Others Would Do ItI’ve had the opportunity recently to interface with some real wine industry public relations pros and integrated communication wine marketers: Lisa Adams Walter of Adams Walter Communications; Michael Wangbickler of Balzac Communications; Victoria Bunch, former HP PR executive, and Tia Butts of Benson Marketing Group. The individuals in this group along with the aforementioned Jim Caudill and Tim McDonald will help you identify and craft your brand message and act as pilots to assist in navigating your winery through the now churned waters of wine business communications. Remember that Marshall McLuhan advised us that “it’s not the medium it’s the message.”

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

The Wake-up Call

Niccolo Machiavelli“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”

… Niccolo Machiavelli

The Cult

My wife’s friend, New York based designer Joe Macal, told her that this summer in the Hamptons the wine selection on the party circuit is no longer the envy of the wine cognoscenti. The cult wines have been locked in the basement wine cellars of the McMansions, and the famous hosts just don’t think ostentatious displays of conspicuous consumption are cool in this economyHamptons Summer Party. Or so opined a vintner friend over Racer 5‘s in Healdsburg last week . I’m guessing there has been a sort of a reverse Veblen good effect going on here. Well, no doubt the tide is out. Wall Street has sneezed, and it’s looking less like a cold and more like the financial flu. The question being asked in the hills and knolls of wine country is ‘are we in a luxury goods recess, or has long-term consumer, even the most affluent consumer, behavior been modified?’ The luxury category segment of the American wine business known as the cult wine market has been on anKinked Demand Curve Model unprecedented run since 1990. While the term is new the concept isn’t. There have always been wines, as long as wines have been produced and sold, that commanded more attention and higher prices. Although we look at absolute pricing as an identifier of value, pricing is relative to the times, and through the inverted kink in the demand/pricing graph made famous by the late Dr Paul Samuelson in ‘Economics,’ and codified by John Forbes Nash in ‘Equlibrium,’ we’ve come to understand that the stratospheric pricing of cult wines infers on the host and guest the psycho-social attributes, as described by Berkeley’s Erving Goffman, of being accepted as members of the club. However, just ask Silas Lapham, membership in the club may not be long term.

The Call

Screaming EagleRinggggg, ringggggg, ringggggg. Sitting bolt up-right in my desk chair, looking past the glare of the iMac screen in the darkened room, I couldn’t believe that at 5 AM my iPhone was vibrating off the edge of my desk. Quickly shaking my head back-and-forth to loose the remnants of the mind numbing long night’s work of pushing ouHarlan Estatet pricing structures for a client’s new label project, I answered my phone without first checking the caller-ID. At the sound of the click the sonorous voice at the other end of the connection jump started the conversation. “Hi, sorry to call you so early, but did you read today’s Wall Street Journal article on the luxury wine market? Well, it struck home. My sales, for the first time in 15 years aren’t so great, and well, I’d like to toss around a few ideas.”

“Not a problem, I’ve been up working on a project, but no, haven’t read any papers this morning. Ah, excuse me. Who is this?”

“I’m that small cult winery, ha, that you pitched last year about this time and I told you I didn’t need any help. But I just got off the Araujophone with a management contact at my Boston asset management firm and, well, I need it now.” “I’ve replanted about half of my vineyard, changing the potential final blend, and the grapes are in 4th leaf. I could bottle the young juice in my primary brand, but the overall quality would be diminished. And if there was ever a time to push the quality envelop, it’s now.” “I’m thinking about introducing another label, in a more popular tier, something that could be sold in other environments, other channels. I’ve always been at the luxury end of the market, but I do buy other wines all the time, and think it would be great to get this new wine in more hands.” “So, how do I do this?”

The Plan

Yes, it is possible for a luxury brand to execute a lower priced, more egalitarian brand strategy effectively. A clear focus is needed and a tier specific brand plan is necessary. There are key questions that need to be asked and answered.

  1. Theme – name, appearance, label, packaging
  2. Personality – place, product, pricing, promotion
  3. Tactical Plan – what, when, where, how, how much
  4. Reputation Engineering – the PR initiative
  5. Sales Effort – DTC, DTT, existing distributors?

Forts de LatourA great team is in place, and to dislocate them for a new project just wouldn’t make any sense. They are part of the positive story for your existing brands and lend credence to the new project. You’re current cult and luxury portfolio is based on Napa Valley mountain grown Bordeaux proprietary reds. Protect the image of the existing luxury/cult brands by reducing production by further defining selection and maintaining real rarity. Use the traditional Bordelais classified growth second label model. Think Forts de Latour from Chateau Latour, Pavillion Rouge from Chateau Margaux, or Le Petite Cheval from Chateau Cheval Blanc. Share the story of replanting with new clones and the early quality displayed by the young vines, whilimages-3e refining the cult winemaking process. Increase exposure and the positive press and/or wine blog buzz opportunities by providing value and access to wines which were formerly unavailable in the broad market from your winery. In a market in which Michelin star chef Daniel Boulud has decided to focus more on value with DBGB Kitchen & Bar, the idea of a cult brand providing a more value centric model is not only timely, but most likely necessary given the reality of today’s world financial markets.

The Wrap

drafting plansCreating any new brand in a rapidly consolidating and saturated broad market is not without risk. Manage your risk by utilizing research to target the best potential accounts. Work with key lighthouse accounts, both on and off-premises in limited geographic markets, who will provide support through newsletter, blog and/or web endorsements, while avoiding brand image diminishing discounting. Be sharp in your pricing to not only maximize profit but to achieve planned depletion velocity and consumer pick-up and repurchase. Your value proposition is leveraged on your existing reputation, built through hard work and a fidelity to your singular vision over the last 15-20 years. Don’t engage in any activity that will diminish the new brand or your existing brands. And, really only do this if you are totally committed to success, and not just as a short term liquidity fix.

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

Swimming the Grocery Channel

Larry Bird“Push yourself again and again. Don’t give an inch until the final buzzer sounds.”
… Larry Bird

The Client

I’d been listening for more than a hour, taking notes, watching for signs or cues that my client wanted more than a confirmation that the strategic business model conceived more than 7 years ago was still viable in this new, emerging economy. Sometimes it’s just best to let someone talk and talk. And after all the points are expressed, restated and then exhausted the steam just runs out. As my client turned in his chair, at images-3the large cluttered antique desk, holding the latest account sold report, he looked at me and said one last time, ‘just a little more hard work.’ ‘Yep, that’s what we need, a little more hard work.’ I leaned forward in the faded leather club chair, pinching my eyes closed with my thumb and forefinger and started to feel the onset of a migraine. A migraine that would only go away when my client saw the light. I fought back the urge to answer withDana Carvey as Bush 1 my best Dana Carvey imitation of Bush 1 saying “Not gonna do it.” But, self preservation and 7 years of history got the better of me, and I responded that it was time to rethink the winery’s business model. We needed to flatten out the growth curve of the principal brand, while continuing to focus on the best quality. Some of the juice would have to declassified to be sold in bulk, bottled as a value tier or launched as a new brand. If the new tier or label strategy were to be implemented then pricing tactics would allow the winery to open up new channels for wine by the glass (WBTG), independent retail, or grocery distribution. The word grocery resonated like a scratch on a blackboard. My clients face scrunched-up as if he had just smelled a carton of month old milk. He looked up at me over the top edge of his bifocals and said ‘GROCERY?’

The Grocery Channel

I understand your reticence. You’re concerned with endangering, what Tim McDonald CSW refers to as, your winery’s ‘Reputation Engineering.’ And, based on old models, this concern was once justified, but no longer. Today’s grocery is more than a viable constellation solar winerydistribution alternative for wineries of small and moderate size. The world of grocery distribution seems to the uninitiated to be dominated by the big boys, the 30 largest wineries in the USA market. And it seems to be most appropriate as a channel model only for those wineries producing 100,000 cases or more. Well the grocery market, like the wine market is highly differentiated and segmented. Groceries are classified and merchandized by neighborhood and product selections determined by local demographics. A sharp, regionalized well conceived channel strategy is a must. There is a spot across most price points somewhere within the grocery segment for your wine brand(s). There are convenience store concepts, independents, mid-chainKrogers, large regional multi-unit stores, and then there’s Safeway and Krogers. Within these larger grocery brands several regional sub-brands keyed to the needs of their local markets exist. Consolidation, a current trend in the adult beverage business for producers and distributors, has also found its way into the US Food & Drug business segment. It is not a one-size fits all solution anymore. As I look across the country, I see data that demonstrably reveals pricing segment shifts and channel shifts that favors due consideration of grocery distribution for your brand(s). I believe that it’s time to reset your expectations. It’s time to innovate. It’s time to realize that there are new points of price sensitivity that factor into consumer wine purchase decisions. It certainly is time to recognize the need for real-time category information as a key part of your decision making matrix.

Please note that large areas of the country, including the Inter-Mountain West, several control states such as Pennsylvania, and Whole Foods Wine Sectionlarge US Eastern population centers including Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts don’t as yet allow wine sales in grocery stores. For the smaller, niche, highly-differentiated winery single unit independents and mid-chains are the most appropriate targets for selected distribution. In the nine county San Francisco Bay Area, the small and mid-chain grocery market is vibrant. Within 100 miles of most wineries in Napa and Sonoma several points of potential distribution exist. Although not meant to be comprehensive, the following list represents strong premium grocery retail wine locations: Oliver’s, Fiesta/Pacific, Molsberry Market, Sonoma/Glen Ellen Markets, Vallerga’s, Ranch Market, Sunshine Foods, Oakville Market, Dean & Deluca, Molly Stone’Nugget Markets Wine Sections, Paradise Foods, Nugget Markets, Real Foods, Andronico’s, Berkeley Bowl, Monterey Market, Farmstead Cheese, Draeger’s, Lunardi’s, Cosentino’s, Diablo Foods and many more. Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s are also larger specialty food retailers with strong wine programs, and a significant Bay Area presence. Although, I’ve focused on my back yard, I would also target strong local or regional grocers such as the Carolina’s Harris Teeter, Chicago’s Treasure Island, Seattle’s Metropolitan Market, Portland’s New Season’s Markets, Los Angeles metro area Gelson’s and Bristol Farms, Florida’s Publix Markets, Texas’ Central Markets, Arizona’s AJs, Cleveland’s Heinen’s and St. Louis’ Dierberg’s.

A Very Short Course in Category Management

Category Management GraphCategory Management is “a retailer/distributor/supplier process of managing categories as strategic business units, producing enhanced business results by focusing on delivering consumer value.” …FMI ECR Committee

Selling to groceries can seem daunting to the first timer. The concept of management by objective is key to your grocery presentation. What specifically are your goals? How do you hope to achieve your placements? Do you understand how to leverage your brand equity with that of the retailer’s equity? You don’t have to be Gallo or K-J to have definedTrader Joe's goals and a plan. Your brand’s equity is based on your prior distribution achievement, sales history, reliability, pricing and promotions. Understand that this is a business relationship that requires candor, confidentiality, participation and the ability to give unbiased recommendations in reference to the category, varietal and other winery’s products. Wineries of all sizes have the ability to grow and diversify their depletions by taking the category management approach with retailers seriously. Understand that retailers are seeking multiple points of input to get a holistic view of their marketplace. Use your unique position as a smaller winery and your knowledge of the super and ultra-premium price segments to become a trusted adviser helping the grocery buyer to be better at focusing on the end user. In your presentation be objective, be consumer oriented, keep the message simple and focused, be action specific, and sell a ‘win-win’ program.

A very simple analysis is to quantify your opportunity  by comparing the Consumer Development Index and your Business Fine Wine SalesDevelopment Index, What may sound like geek speak to you, is actually a simple concept. CDI is a specific market accounting of the % of sales for an item based on type and price. To access this information you need to refer to data from IRI, Nielsen, Trade Pulse, or other previously discussed wine consumer insights firms. BDI is your actual % of sales within a defined geography. Select markets where CDI>BDI. Calculate the gap as CDI-BDI = a positive opportunity. Then utilizing the formula (Volume/BDI)*Gap = opportunity volume, develop a plan. This is allows you to ask and discover the answers to the 3 basic questions of distribution:

  1. Where are we?
  2. Where should we be?
  3. How do we achieve desired targeted distribution objective

Swim to Win

imagesSelling wine to groceries tends to be a more technical and specialized arena than other available wine sales channels, but not necessarily more complex. Sales is sales. My Dad used to always say ‘sales is a contact sport.’ And in any contact sport you want the best tools in order to just not survive but to succeed. You’ll need to incorporate your market, brand and wine knowledge, salesmanship, business skills and your entrepreneurial mind set. Yes, it’s tough out there, always has been, always will be. But, you’re in the game to win. And if you close your mind to any available channel before a thorough strategic market analysis, win you won’t. As you swim in the grocery channel, utilize technology to access the best market and category information tools to target, prepare, present , close and win.

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

Satori in Sonoma

Studs Terkel“We are more and more into communications and less and less into communication” … Studs Terkel

My father instilled in me an innate curiosity about life and people. He taught me that having the right question may be more important than having all the answers. And most importantly he taught me to listen. I’ve always been interested in how people arrived at their career choices. Was it an accidental journey or a planned path that you’re now walking down. Since my life’s work has been in the wine business, I’m for the most part interested in people who have traveled a similar road. My Socratic style was inspired by Studs Terkel and his examination of the average American working stiff. When someone asks, ‘will there be anything else, sir’, I often respond question in question, “what’s the meaning of life?” This always stops the questioner in his/her tracks. A moment of reflection is sometimes given to a substantive response, but for the most part it often devolves into an embarrassed laugh, or worse into some platitude or other. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk with someone during a wine interaction I like to ask about their first memorable wine experience. What’s that? Well, since you’ve asked, I’m more than willing to share my story.

My father, Howard Corcoran was a character, and in the Irish oral tradition told great stories. He graduated as the Valedictorian from Central Catholic High School in Wheeling, West Virginia and then from West Virginia University with a degree in Law. He never sat for the bar, but instead followed his widowed Aunt Margie to Florida, where she was the business manager for the architect Addison Mizner. His aunt had been married to Arthur McConnaughy the founder of Island Creek Coal Company, the genesis company of what is now ConocoPhillips. My great Uncle was killed defending his mine during a strike, and Aunt Margie was Jerome KernleftBreakers Hotel Palm Beach with a then significant income. So off to Palm Beach with Dad to be near her sister Virginia, who’s husband operated the men’s haberdashery at the Breakers Hotel. Dad quickly landed a job for $1/day as a clerk in a brokerage office, and lived on a yacht owned by American composer Jerome Kern, with his roommate Johnny Love. At night Dad and Johnny headed a jazz combo that played during the high season at all the big parties. This was in the middle of prohibition, but the swells weren’t about to do with out their champagne or booze. My Dad and Johnny had a sideline business of also supplying the party favors. The yacht was used to sail over to Bimini to pick-up a load of Cordon Rouge Champagne, Seagrams whiskey, and Kennedy Scotch. And then the boys sold their haul to the social 400 who inhabited Palm Beach for the winter.

My Mom and Dad got married after the end of Prohibition just as the New Deal was helping to drag the economy out of the SCAN0009depression. I came along as the last of five kids towards the end of the famed boomer generation. I grew up listening to these by then romanticized stories, and knew that in some way, some how wine would be part of my life. My parents often had dinner parties, and Sunday meals were always formal sit downs at the long claw and ball foot table in the big dinning room. Wine was often part of these occasions, and we were always allowed to taste the wines and encouraged to share our impressions. Knowing my Dad’s story, I often asked my father’s friends and business associates about the first time that they thought of wine and went wow.

I still ask this question. I ask it of store owners, and clerks. I ask sommeliers, and chefs. I ask university professors, distributor owners and winery entrepreneurs. And everyone has an answer. That moment of enlightenment seems, while always different, to be a memory worth sharing. Although I grew up enjoying wine with my family in the appropriate social situations, my moment of zen came on theCh Pavie Label
Empress Lilly Riverboatbalcony of my Disney office in Florida tasting samples while creating the wine list for the Empress Lilly Riverboat restaurant complex at Lake Buena Vista Village. It was the mid 70’s and I was tasting the 1970 Ch. Pavie, and all of the sudden I got it. This, my moment of sudden enlightenment, was soon followed by a trip to Sonoma County, California. At the end of a long week I was sitting in my rental car on a cloudy, rainy winter day in the parking lot of the Dry Creek General Store sipping on a bottle of Dry Creek Vineyards Zinfandel. The sun finally came out from behind the dense clouds and a focused beam of light hit my car. At that moment, I knew that this was my home… satori in Sonoma.

Andre TchelistcheffThat my story, but what’s yours? I’ve been so fortunate due to the circumstances of my life and career to have asked this question of governors, congressmen,senators and CEO’s. I especially enjoyed asking this question of some of the icons in the wine industry, including Joe Heitz, Hans Kornell, Mike Girgich, Andre Tchelistcheff, Robert Mondavi, Henri Jayer, Jacques SeyssesJim Barrett, Warren Winarski and Jess Jackson. Their stories were all unique, but what great stories they were to hear. One of the best lessons that any successful wine salesperson can learn is to ask the right question and then listen to the answer. So, do your remember the moment when you first drank a wine and thought, wow? I‘m listening.

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