Vinexpo Bordeaux conference outlines secrets to entering the complex American market
To make it in the US you have to be sharp, dynamic, different, super creative and know the market inside out, and even then, you only stand a minimal chance of getting your product listed by your chosen retailer or operator. That was the stark conclusion given by Steve Raye, who runs his own wine broking, marketing and consultancy business, Bevology, to help wine producers find a foothold or widen distribution in the US. Speaking at Vinexpo last week, Raye picked out seven key factors for entering the US market:
1/ DO YOUR HOMEWORK
The US drinks distribution network is complicated and hard to fathom to outsiders. Its three-tier system has been set up to ensure each state is able to manage and control its own drinks industry. But within that, there are state-by-state differences that make the whole process even more complicated. There are 18 controlled states, where drinks distribution is handled by the state and sold through its drinks stores, and 33 open states where it is organised by independent distributors. It’s vital, stressed Raye, that producers work hand in hand with a US consultancy or broking business to act as their mouth and ears on the ground.
2/ UNDERSTANDING THE THREE-TIER SYSTEM
Before getting in to the detail of how different states operate, you have to understand how the three-tier system operates, meaning you have to rst nd an importer willing to take your product in the first place. It is only through an importer that you can access the all-important distributors and wholesalers that are then going to market your wines to supermarkets, liquor stores, restaurants or bars.
3/ IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
When it comes to cracking the US, it’s not just how good your product is; it’s who you know, and what they can do for you. Only 10 distributors control 73% of all products sold in the US, and they’re inundated with thousands of product requests every year, so you need to know the right people in the right places.
4/ WHAT’S IN IT FOR THEM
Don’t approach a US importer or distributor with your tried and trusted story about how long you’ve been making wine or how unique your terroir is. That is the window dressing. To get a seat at the table you have to think like an importer or distributor. What can you offer them that is going to excite them, make their lives easier and want to list you?
5/ BE CREATIVE
That means being genuinely different from all the other wines or products in your category. Not necessarily in the way it is made, but how it is marketed, promoted, what key trend is it addressing. You have to be more creative than the last producer to walk through a distributor’s doors.
6/ E-COMMERCE CAN CRACK THE MARKET FOR YOU
With such a closed traditional distribution route to market, the new e-commerce industry is “changing the landscape” in the US, said Raye, opening the doors to imported wines. While there are 23% of imported wines in the overall market, they make up 53% of e-commerce sales.
7/ INFLUENCE THE INFLUENCERS
It is why wine apps and wine review platforms like Vivino and Wine Searcher are so important in the US. You can create your own section on Vivino, list all your wines and tell your back story direct to millions of, say, potential Vivino customers looking to cut through the system to find the wines they want.