Cider, The Next Big Thing…Really?

Ad Age, Buffalo Trace Newsletter, Wine and Spirits Daily, Shanken News Daily and others have all had stories about Cider and its potential as the next “craft” brew.

At first I thought – no way. Cider (Hard Cider that is) has been around for centuries and never caught on. Most people I know who have come here from the UK, sooner or later miss Cider and wonder why Americans don’t drink it. I don’t know why that is – no acquired taste for it; perceptions that it’s too sweet; dislike of apple juice; confusion about what it is; just because it’s not in consumers’ frame of reference. There are lots of reasons.

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Booze, the B-List and Beer

I came across an article in USA Today indicating that US alcohol consumption hit a 25-yeat high. Americans drank the most wine on record (2.3 gallons per person). Spirits grew by 18% to 1.5 gallons. But, beer dropped 7 percent to 20.7 gallons according to the Beer Institute.

The report brought to mind an article in Wine & Spirits Daily back in October. Speaking to the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Tom Long of MillerCoors, indicated that the beer industry could learn a thing or two from spirits marketing.

To further illustrate the problem, according to Ad Age, AB InBev spent $555 million in measured media last year and still managed to lose a full share point. MillerCoors spent just under $400 million and lost half a share point. How does that work? Together they spent nearly a billion and lost market share. Is it the creative? Is it the media? Is it that consumer alcohol tastes are shifting to craft beers and spirits/wine? Probably all of the above.

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And now, on to the foremost industry show of the year, at least in my opinion. The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) 68th annual convention is in Orlando at the beginning of April. Once upon a time this was a key meeting point between suppliers and wholesalers. Speakers, exhibitors, award presentations were all a sideshow to the supplier-wholesaler hospitality suite meetings and dinners. Brands and lines were awarded and lost at this event. Friendships were made and solidified. Animosities were seeded and blossomed. All in all, it was one of the events that drove the business.

But there may be problems this year.

Last week, Wine and Spirits Daily reported as follows:

“WSD had heard rumblings that some DISCUS members will not be attending the WSWA’s annual convention this year. Initially we supposed this was due to disagreements over the CARE Act, but a number of distiller sources we have spoken to say the issues are unrelated and that it is a commercial decision.”

A commercial decision?  WSD closed the piece with:

“Our conclusion?  While we don’t doubt DISCUS’ reasoning for bowing out, it’s likely that disagreements over the CARE Act sped up the process.”

Ah, the CARE Act (aka H.R. 5034) – let me see if I can simplify the issue.

The CARE Act aims to clarify that states have primary authority to regulate alcohol. I can go on and on with details about letters to congress, lobbying rationales, assorted fine print gobbledygook and each side’s arguments and counter arguments.  But it’s simple — the wholesalers want to protect and solidify the three-tier system and the suppliers want to make inroads and cause some erosion.

So, back to the WSWA –

I don’t believe the attendance will be down. I also don’t buy the argument that “we see the wholesalers on a frequent basis already so why go to the event?” Because, it’s called relationship building. Because, the size of the line alone is not the answer for “winning the hearts and minds” of distributors and their salespeople.

As for the wholesalers, if the big boys don’t show in the same numbers as in the past, perhaps they will spend more time in the exhibit area and get to know the smaller suppliers and the new brands and players that may become the powerhouses of the future.

It’s fascinating to see each of the oligopolies battle each other. I guess it’s called the “irresistible force” meets the “immovable object.”

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