22 July 2005
by Mike Ratcliffe
Distribution in the United States is in an amazing state of flux as consolidatory and predatory forces jostle for market share, writes Mike Ratcliffe from Texas, USA.
In Texas, USA things really are as big as they come!After a hectic night and little sleep, we awake at an amazingly chic hotel in Austin called The San Jose (http://www.sanjosehotel.com/). Suddenly, everything is calm again and it is time to face another big day. We begin with a sales meeting with our local distributors Block/Republic. Big, bold red wine at 9am... and nobody in Texas sees anything strange in this.Distribution in the United States is in an amazing state of flux as consolidatory and predatory market forces jostle for market share. Every day, another small distributor seems to get snapped up by a larger competitor. I would not be surprised to see Southern (distributor) moving into a monopolistic position across America. This trend is problematic because it reduces the number of SKU's that are carried in the market making penetration by small producers (like Vilafonté) difficult as well as limiting consumer choice. Despite all the fuss about the 'opening' of America to direct shipping and the relaxation of the shipping laws, there is very little evidence that this is going to benefit the producers... yet!The one thing that is clear is that the distributors are fighting this and their massive financial contributions to the Republican Party still buy them a lot of influence in this country.Today was a momentous day for wine in the USA, to quote the Washington Times:'A Gallup poll released yesterday found that wine has surpassed beer and spirits as the stated drink of choice among those who imbibe. Oh, it's not by much: 39 percent of the respondents said they drank wine most often; 36 percent drank beer. Statistically, this is a mighty close race between the dueling beverages, as the poll has a margin of error of four percentage points. "For the first time in Gallup's measurement of Americans' drinking preferences, there is a statistical tie between wine and beer as the alcoholic beverage that adult drinkers say they drink most often," pollster Lydia Saad noted.'The meetings and interviews whiz by in anticipation of our Big evening function at the home of Susan and Ed Auler. Susan is a board member of the Texan Wine & Food Foundation and has invited the entire board as well as the chairman, Larry Peal. This is a big audience and we realise that we'd better not mess it up. Austin is only an hour by car from San Antonio, another centre of food and wine in Texas and we have arranged to bus a number of key influencers to Austin for the evening and put them up in a local hotel. Between us, we invited fifty key consumers, press and trade and the response was exceptional. Susan even hired a chef from the Cordon Bleu cookery school to cook for the evening. The response has been excellent and the Texan reputation for BIG hospitality proved itself again. Another early morning again tomorrow as we head for Dallas on the 08h52 flight.