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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