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Tag Archives: wine marketing

Winebits 350: Three-tier, wine prices, wine marketing

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three-tier systemNo love for three-tier: The Wine Curmudgeon has much respect for the Wine Folly website, which does great work educating wine drinkers. Its recent post on the dreaded three-tier system was no exception, detailing what it was and how it worked with quality graphics and clear writing. I don’t know that it gave enough credit to Prohibition in three-tier’s formation, but it did discuss its beginnings in the late 19th century, which I didn’t know. And it did impressive work tying the cost of wine to the inefficiencies of the system. My only complaint: That it forecast the coming demise of three-tier, based on direct shipping, the Internet, and flash sites. It’s not that I don’t want three-tier to go away, but it overlooks three things — three-tier’s constitutional protections, which the Wine Curmudgeon has lamented many times, the system’s immense clout through campaign cash, and that direct to consumer sales account for less than five percent of wine sales in the U.S. That’s hardly eroding the system.

“A giant sinkhole”: W. Blake Gray writes about the media’s immense joy in forecasting rising wine prices, which seems to happen every six months or so whether it’s true or not. The most recent example came after the Napa earthquake, even though the region produces just a tiny fraction of the world’s wine. Gray writes: “People just don’t have a sense of how enormous and international the wine business is — that if Napa Valley or Mendoza, Argentina or Barossa Valley, Australia fell into a giant sinkhole tomorrow, we would all be the poorer for it, but overall world wine prices would still not be much affected.” He also notes that many media types figure only rich people drink wine, and so deserve higher prices. I’m not so sure about the second; many of the media types who still get paychecks in this post-print world aren’t exactly paupers. My hunch is that it’s mostly crummy reporting. When a Washington Post writer proclaims that wine prices are skyrocketing when they’re not, and the Post is supposed to be one of the world’s best newspapers, it’s no surprise that everyone else misses the point, too.

It’s not about the marketing: Producers in the French wine region of Bordeaux are running around in a panic because sales are down, and this report discusses how it will try to solve the problem through better marketing — some €3m worth (about US$3.8). The Wine Curmudgeon, out of his great respect and admiration for Bordeaux wine, has a cheaper and simpler solution: Stop overcharging for your wine. It’s one thing to sell the best wines for hundreds and thousands of dollars a bottle, but when the everyday stuff costs $15 or $20 — and isn’t any better than $10 wine from California, Spain, or Italy — you’re not going to sell it, no matter how much you spend on marketing. One retailer, when I asked him why this was happening, attributed it to Bordelais greed. “If they can get it from the Chinese, they figure they can get it from the rest of us,” he said. Obviously, that isn’t the case any more.

Treasury Wine Estate’s plan to avoid a hostile takeover

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Treasury hostile takeoverThe Wine Curmudgeon mentions Treasury’s scheme for two reasons. First, and most importantly, it doesn’t seem very sustainable. The troubled Australian multi-national wine company, whose holdings include California’s Beringer, has been losing more millions than most of us have socks.

Yet, despite its problems, Treasury wants to boost business to fend off a hostile takeover from private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, which tried to buy Treasury earlier this year and made another offer this week. The second offer was a little higher, but probably won’t scare anyone.

Treasury’s anti-takeover plan features selling heavily discounted wine refrigerators to customers in Australia. The Brisbane Times newspaper reports that the company’s new boss “labelled the wine cabinet promotion the biggest consumer-facing promotion ever undertaken by the company.” Which should tell us all we need to know about Treasury’s lack of marketing ability.

How does it work? Buy six bottles of a Penfolds Bin wine, which cost from AU$30 to AU$80 a bottle, and you can buy a AU$650 wine fridge for AU$200. In other words, buy six bottles of AU$30 Penfolds Bin 51 Eden Valley riesling and the refrigerator and pay AU$380 — just 58 percent of what the refrigerator would cost by itself. Given retail discounting, in fact, you could probably get the fridge for at least 50 percent off. Is it any wonder that Treasury wrote down AU$260 million earlier this year and fired its CEO?

The second reason I mention this? The Wine Curmudgeon, financial genius that he is, bought 100 shares of Treasury stock in hopes KKR (as we high-flying investment types call Kohlberg Kravis Roberts) would make another, much higher offer for Treasury. My retirement to Burgundy never seemed so close.

I paid about what KKR offered the first time, so news that Treasury seems to be throwing away money on the refrigerator promotion is not welcome. The company is reducing inventory and margins to increase cash flow, which will not boost its value or make me rich. KKR’s second, not much higher, offer confirmed this.

In the wine business, the old joke always seems to apply. Or, as one actual real-life financial type told me: “With a little luck, you might get a nice bottle of wine out of this.”

Why wineries change their label design

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wine label designMostly, because they can. That’s one of the conclusions of an article I wrote for the Beverage Media trade magazine, trying to figure out why so many producers seem to be changing the look and design of their labels. Because, given the changes in the wine business, with more and bigger companies controlling more brands, it’s going to happen more often.

Or, as one retailer told me: “Sometimes I wonder why they need to fix something that isn’t broken.”

And, though the article was written for retailers, it has lessons for consumers as well. Ever go into a store, look for your favorite wine in its regular place with its regular label, and not see it? Chances are it’s still there; it just has a different label. Don’t laugh. Retailers told me this happens all the time.

So what’s going on with all the re-labeling?

• It’s difficult to get a firm grasp on how often this happens. Brands that have changed labels over the past several years include Blackstone, Columbia Crest, La Vieille Ferme, Jacobs Creek, Columbia Winery, Cuvaison, Hahn, Parducci, and Langhe Twins.

• Producers, facing a need to make their product stand out among what may be 15,000 different wines in the U.S., are more willing to change the label than ever before. In addition, they know more about this kind of marketing, and will spend the money to do it where they may have been reluctant before.

• Consumers aren’t always the primary target for label changes. Producers sometimes do it to impress distributors and retailers, to reassure them that they care about the brand and will put marketing dollars behind it. This is completely different from every other consumer packaged good, and we have the three-tier system to thank for it.

• Most label changes aren’t complete makeovers, although that seems to be happening more often. Usually, the changes are tweaks to reinforce the brand’s image, and are only noticeable over time.

• Once-popular wines that aren’t anymore are the most likely to get a new label. Also, producers aren’t shy about changing labels on popular brands, if they see a chance to keep the current audience, which may be older, and attract a new, younger one.

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