Premium bulk players and smaller-volume buyers meant business at the annual World Bulk Wine Exhibition, presenting them with huge bottling opportunities further from origin, writes Wanda Augustyn.

The 10th edition of the World Bulk Wine Exhibition, which took place in Amsterdam in November last year, presented an opportunity to taste almost 80% of the world’s harvest under one roof. The two-day event surged both in terms of exhibitors (250) and visitors (6 500), and in diversity and internationalisation.

Quality over quantity

Buyers from 75 countries gathered to taste, network, and talk about the latest and greatest trends. New wine buyers from Armenia, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Nepal, Senegal, Serbia, Turkey and Uzbekistan tasted wines alongside traditional buyers from countries such as Canada, Denmark, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan and America.

They represented large bulk wine operators, new producers and medium-sized companies in pursuit of very specific quality wines for their business, proving that this exhibition has shifted from being a bulk wine trade fair to a complex business and discussion platform that provides many opportunities, especially for markets wanting to cater for niche and premium purchases. The overall message was clear: Quality is key.

“This exhibition started as a place for big volumes, but now it’s not just about big producers and big buyers, but for everyone, whether you’re a buyer for a restaurant group or a specialist buyer,” says Catherine Mendoza, who oversees the Scandinavian market for broker Ciatti.

Réal Wolfe, wine expert and manager of the fine wine division of Univins, one of the top wine agencies in Canada, agrees. “Bulk today is targeted at people involved with a specific brand. The five great gold medals awarded during the World Bulk Wine Competition are testimony to the quality shift the exhibition is known for today. Three years ago I tasted a wine from a new producer in Moldova here. Today we sell 200 000 cases of this same wine in Québec.”

Orange River Cellars, one of 10 South African brands/companies/cellars at the exhibition, has seen a keen interest in both its Colombar and Sauvignon Blanc which both received double gold medals at last year’s Veritas Awards. “Although an exhibition such as this is as much about networking with key players in the industry as it is about new commercial opportunities, the interest in our Sauvignon Blanc and Colombar was evident,” Orange River Cellars CEO Charl du Plessis says. “General bulk wine sales for dry white were however weak.”

This is further proof that buyers were in search of exceptional quality.

Think how you package your wine

Key focus areas at the exhibition were private labels, alternative packaging and an acute awareness about the environmental impact of wine production. Speaking at a seminar on various packaging formats, Catherine emphasised the need for a radical change in approach when it comes to how wine is packaged and delivered if the industry is to thrive.

“Various formats are essential to increase engagement and sales, and help drive the mid-market and more premium sales,” she says. “Younger consumers in both the US and UK are looking for more premium wines in more flexible, smaller sizes. This and the growing trend in China where women drink one glass of wine a day for health benefits, underline the importance of delivering wine in formats to suit a younger generation on the lookout for more innovative packaging.”

Speaking at a seminar on Trends in the US Market, Wine Business editor-in-chief Cyril Penn said packaging is also a key growth area in the American market. “Bag-in-box, Tetra Pak, cans and kegs are key growth areas in the US market with cans growing a whopping 38% last year compared with the previous year. It’s clear that innovation has become increasingly important in an age where the impulse purchase rules and herein lies opportunity.”

Talking at a seminar on the expanding bag-in-box (BIB) market, Catherine highlighted the successes BIB has had in the Scandinavian monopoly market. With a mix of government push on environmental issues and consumer demand for sustainable packaging, bag-in-box packaging has taken over half the wine market in Scandinavia, including the market for more premium wine styles.

In South African however we have a long way to go to change traditional negative perceptions about bag-in-box wines and replicate the Scandinavian successes.

Buzzing about

With the balance in the world wine supply restored pricing was back on the table. Speaking to South African brand representatives at the exhibition, reasons for attending the exhibition include getting a better understanding of the international market, knowing how to position our wines, benchmarking our wines’ pricing and quality against those of other wine-producing countries, and tasting unknown quality wines.

Among their concerns was the relatively low interest in South African wines, as well as high import tariffs. The main talking points at the exhibition, however, were competitive prices and the excellent quality of the wines.

“There are clearly enough wines available to meet demand,” DGB oenologist Jaco Potgieter says. “I was particularly impressed with the wines from Moldova and Bulgaria. The unknown varieties from other countries were impressive. A warning for SA producers is the good Chardonnay at excellent prices from Australia. I believe there’ll be a lot of pressure on bulk wine prices and SA producers might again get the short end of the stick. Trade among EU countries will make it difficult for us to compete.”

This sentiment is echoed by Charl. “Why do Chile, Australia and New Zealand have wine FTAs with China, while South Africa as a BRICS member is still compromised due to high import tariffs?”

Looking ahead

The World Bulk Wine Exhibition Asia takes place from 30-31 May in Yantai (Shandong), which is known as China’s City of Wine. It’s the country’s most important port of entry for bulk wine with 82% of the bulk wine that enters China each year going via the province of Shandong and 96% via the port of Yantai. The event will aim to connect international wineries with companies from China and across Asia, thus boosting a constantly growing industry.

“China today is the fifth largest wine importer worldwide and has the potential to become the top global bulk wine operator,” WBWE delegate for China, Swana Woo, says. “It’s of strategic importance for companies from across the world that want to position their bulk wines, liquors and private labels in one of the world’s most promising markets and expand their possibilities.”

It’s clear the World Bulk Wine Exhibition is growing and evolving, with premium quality, constant innovation and consumer involvement in decision-making making it a force to be reckoned with.

FAST FACTS:

The 10th WBWE hosted exhibitors from 22 countries: America, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, China, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Macedonia, Moldova, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Uruguay.

Bulk Wine Club: The Bulk Wine Club not only gathers information on the bulk wine industry, it’s also an information forum that enables members to get direct access to everything in the sector in real time, including sales data, prices, trade flows and trends. It’s also the biggest social network for bulk wine professionals from around the world.

SA brands at WBWE: Arbelos Wines, Cape Wine Exporters, Eagle’s Cliff Winery, Lutzville Vineyards, Mountain Ridge Wines, Mountain River Wines, Orange River Cellars, Origin Wine, The Bulk Wine Centre, Uniwines

Ssssh . . . we’re tasting: One of the WBWE’s most visited areas is the Silent Tasting Room, an exclusive tasting room where buyers and brokers can taste more than 400 wines from all over the world in one day.

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