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North Bay Business Journal

Thursday, July 31, 2014, 2:30 pm

Vine Notes: Wine, beer, spirits groups benefit from sharing stories

By Elizabeth Hans McCrone

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    Most who enjoy adult beverages don’t confine themselves to one particular type of drink. A craft beer or hard cider on a hot day, cocktails on Friday evening with friends and a fine wine with dinner at a good restaurant all have their place in contemporary lifestyles.

    That said, do the makers and distributors of these products find themselves competing with one another for the same market share or struggling to define themselves as the one consistent beverage of choice?

    Not so, according to industry experts who are tracking trends and working to establish best practices in an increasingly crowded marketplace. It appears that as competition becomes stiffer, wine, beer, spirits, and now hard cider groups are finding more, not less, benefit in sharing their stories.

    Consider the fact that the recent Craft Beverage Expo in San Jose drew 1,300 attendees and 160 exhibitors to its inaugural event.

    Industry professional Lesley Berglund organized the closing panel on industry innovation at the Craft Beverage Expo. It was comprised of representatives from the wine, beer, whiskey, cider and mead industries — and what she discovered through the process was surprising.

    “What I found by interviewing participants and putting together the panel was fabulous innovation in product, in distribution, in trade partnerships, and what they’re doing to connect with consumers,” Ms. Berglund said. “There was much more similarity to these testimonies than what I had previously appreciated.”

    Wine Industry Network beveage business exposMs. Berglund is a business partner with J. Smoke Wallin, an industry strategist with a long history in wine, beer, and spirits distribution. The two are co-chairs of the 10th annual Wine Industry Technology Symposium (WITS), held June 30–July 1 in Napa.

    This year’s lineup included the first annual gathering of the Beer Industry Technology Symposium in conjunction with WITS, an intersection that Mr. Wallin called a no-brainer.

    “In the 1990s there were a thousand wineries in the U.S. Now there are eight to ten thousand,“ Mr. Wallin said. “The same with beer. A core retail list today might include as many as 20 taps, with six to eight of them rotating monthly. With more consumer choices, the market has become more cluttered for everyone. By focusing on technology and innovation, you can learn about the latest available tools to get your products to market. Everyone is collaborating on sharing best practices. It’s happening across beverage industries in all categories.”

    Along those lines, plans are underway for the launch of the U.S. Beverage Industry Expo ’16, a trade show and conference Feb. 16–18, 2016, in Washington D.C. It is designed to focus on the wine, craft beer, spirits and cider industries.

    George Christie, president of the Wine Industry Network, producer of the U.S. Beverage Industry Expo, said the decision to include categories beyond wine in the conference and trade show was the natural result of a trend toward broader industry integration.

    “The goal is to do something more inclusive, from a conference perspective, than has ever been done before,” Mr. Christie said.

    “WIN works with nearly 500 winery suppliers and almost every one we represent also services other industry segments. We’ve had numerous conversations with our bottle, capsule, label, cork, barrel, etc. companies about how their businesses have been expanding into other areas of the beverage marketplace and how we needed to as well. Based on our observations and those conversations, we decided they’re right and that it was time to have a larger and more strategic discussion that includes everyone.”

    Michael Kaiser, director of public affairs for Washington, D.C-based WineAmerica, and an U.S. Beverage Industry Expo ’16 conference co-sponsor, agreed.

    “As all of the industries have grown, we’ve seen more commonality and a kind of cross pollination of trends throughout them,” he said. “Legislatively, all four commodities are promoting a lot of same things and are on the same page with most issues. The overall idea behind this conference is industry unity. A show in our hometown that can unify our entire industry is something we definitely want to be a part of.”

    Elizabeth Hans McCrone a writer and editor for Wine Industry Network and has served as a trade tour host at Francis Ford Coppola Winery.

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