Image Courtesy of ProWein
ProWein International Trade Fair for Wines and Spirits in Düsseldorf, Germany, which took place March 19-21, lived up to its name as approximately 6,000 exhibitors from more than 60 countries were in attendance. Italy led the way, with 1,100 brands present, and more than 200 wineries from California showed America’s international wine presence. The trade fair also saw 49,000 attendees, up from 38,000 in 2022.
But perhaps nothing is a better measurement for Prowein’s size than step totals. They quickly go up merely walking from meeting to meeting at the nearly 20 separate halls within the fairgrounds. At the end of day one, the average Wine Enthusiast team member walked around 20,000 steps.
Along with getting the chance to get your steps in and visit vendors from around the globe, Prowein is also a hub for learning about emerging trends in the industry. For instance, Wine Enthusiast Tasting Director Anna-Christina Cabrales moderated the U.S. importer panel, “Forecasts & Trends for the American Palate.” Participants included Bruce Hunter, managing director of Shaw-Ross International Importers; Diego Lo Prete, senior vice president of Winebow Imports; and Marc Oliveira, president of Tri-Vin Imports Inc. Here’s a look at some of the main takeaways.
Increased Demand for No- and Low-Alcohol Drinks
One major consensus? Demand for no- and low-alcohol options could outpace the supply. Panelists agreed that the amount of coverage given to the nonalcoholic category by the media doesn’t actually come close to matching consumer interest at this point.
The Importance of Marketing
Panelists also agreed that wine brands need to invest in marketing. This was clearly shown by those who had success during the pandemic, when ride-alongs and salesforce visits were impossible.
“Those who relied on ‘push’ went down,” relayed Lo Prete, referring to the practice of having a person in-market opening bottles for people to taste. Brands who had a strong marketing presence, meanwhile, were flat or raised their sales. Sales generally were up during Covid-19, buoyed by brands with strong marketing campaigns. Shaw-Ross’s Hunter said they “saw growth on the order of 20%.” Lo Prete added that Wine.com became Winebow’s largest client during Covid. “That’s no longer the case,” he said, but they are still significant.
Hunter says that during Covid-19, they noticed a shift in people buying more expensive wines. The trend appears to be holding. Oliveira also attributed this growth in the U.S. market to brands that had spent money building awareness. “I can’t stop emphasizing the wine marketing aspect,” he said.
There Are Challenges in the U.S. Market, but Potential, Too
All panelists emphasized the vast difference between the European and U.S. wine markets, as the latter has a three-tiered system and fickle consumers (and now supply chain and inflationary pressures).
“The U.S. is the most difficult market in the world,” said Hunter.
“Trends in Europe don’t translate immediately, or at all, to the U.S.,” added Oliveira. But for those international brands looking to break into the U.S. market, Cabrales offered the help of Wine Enthusiast Importer Connection, which rates and reviews wines that don’t have an importer but are looking for one, and then helps to match them.
Overall, there was agreement there that there is a naivete to the U.S. consumer not found in the E.U. “I think there is an authenticity in their choices,” said Oliveira. “We don’t patronize the American consumer. We look for authentic stories.”
On the influence of natural wines, a mainstay of the European market, in the U.S. market, the panel grew philosophical. “It’s like music,” said Lo Prete. “You have avant garde music and it percolates through the rest of music.”
“Despite current trends that reflect a decline in alcohol consumption,” concluded Cabrales after the panel, “it was reassuring to receive confirmation that U.S. consumers are curious, demand diversity and are willing to pay for higher quality.”
Next year’s ProWein takes place on March 10-12 in Düsseldorf. See you there.