Monday, October 5, 2009

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Wine in grocery stores...why is this so important?

I continue to believe selling wine in grocery stores, alongside food with which it pairs so well, is the best way to introduce new consumers to the appreciation of healthy, responsible consumption of wine with their meals. In failing to pass this measure, we may have missed our opportunity to greatly increase the number of New Yorkers who enjoy wine in this way on a regular basis and have hence restricted our opportunity to grow as an industry.

I agree that there are many great wine shops in the state that provide excellent selection and service to their customers. Many of these shops sell our wines. Over the past few days I have received many emails from wine shops who suggest that grocery stores will only carry cheap, low quality wines and will be unable to provide knowledgeable wine service. Then, in nearly the same breath, I hear the cry that the very grocery stores that fail to provide the great selection and service that wine drinkers have come to expect from their local wine shops, are going to take away their customers. This is a perspective on marketing that I don't understand.

Even if the grocery store wine selection and service is abysmal as I am lead to believe by some, the grocery store setting will provide a level of convenience that will introduce new customers to the enjoyment of wine. The wine shops will have a competitive advantage to retain their current customers as well as the opportunity to engage a growing customer base.

My view on this issue in not borne of a selfish desire to grow my business at the expense of others'. It comes from my desire to grow and expand the wine industry of New York State; from growers, to wineries, to wholesalers, to stores (liquor stores AND grocery stores), to the consumer.

The loser that we must not forget is the grower. The grape industry in the New York is facing the most catastrophic downturn since the 1970's. Without a substantial increase in customer base and sales, I will be forced to make drastic cuts to growers who I have worked closely with for the past ten years. But it's not just me. And it's not just the boutique, family wineries that we need to think about. Many thousands of tons of grapes are likely to drop in the vineyards this fall. These are the grapes that would have gone to some of the very large wineries in New York and into the mainstream wines that likely would have been common on most grocery store shelves. These wines don't come from huge, corporate wineries. They come from farms. They come from families who have worked for decades and generations to build the agricultural communities that make up the grape growing regions of New York State.

When I speak about this issue, I'm not just talking about a bottle wine and who gets the buck for selling it. I speak the voice of our farms, and our families. And I hope for the day when we can work as an industry to grow and flourish together.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wine in Grocery Stores?

david_whiting_red_newt.jpg I have been spending some time in Albany for the past few days talking, but mostly listening, to all sides of the very hot issue of permitting the sale of wine in grocery stores. I would like to share some of my thoughts with you on this issue, which holds the potential to be transformational in the economy of upstate New York, and in New York as a whole. One of the points that I will stress is that this is issue is being hotly debated and will likely be decided in a matter of days. If you have an opinion about it, you have the opportunity today to have your voice make a difference. This opportunity will be gone very soon. So act TODAY! (Read more... for some help.)

Wine and food go well together and are truly are an example of what I, and many others, consider a healthy, responsible lifestyle. The convenience of being able to walk into a grocery store and purchase a bottle of wine would be very helpful for my family and my customers, and would help boost sales of wine in New York State.

But I believe that the question of selling wines in grocery stores is more than just an issue of retail sales. It's not just an issue of who sells more -- the liquor store or the grocery store -- or about who "wins". This is an agricultural and economic issue that has holds the future of the NY economy in the balance. Permitting the sales of wine in grocery stores will increase the overall sales of wine in New York State: this effect is very well documented in other states where this has happened. When I talk about boosting wine sales, I'm not just talking about selling more wine to the same group of customers. I'm talking about engaging an expanded set of wine consumers who, when presented with the opportunity and convenience of purchasing wine that is sold along side food, will adopt a routine that involves more frequent enjoyment of the health, social and gustatory benefits that come along with the responsible consumption of wine with their meals.

There are two types of sales that are essential to the success of any business. 1) Repeat sales to existing customers and 2) sales to new customers. I do believe that most liquor stores do a good job at culturing loyal customers who find value in the goods and services that they provide. But the fact that nearly 50% of New York State liquor stores have gone out of business in the past 20 years and that the current trend is to lose an additional 50 - 60 stores per year reinforces the idea that there may be a shortage of new customers.

If we consider the Farm Wineries of New York, we have seen tremendous growth with the number of wineries from about 150 wineries five years ago to over 260 today. And many of the wineries have shown annual growth in the double digits for the the past decade. In order to do this, we have prioritized our customers, both repeat customers and new customers, and grown an extensive customer base that has created "pull" in the retail markets (liquor stores) who carry NY wines.

The grocery store setting provides a unique opportunity to present wines to potential consumers in an atmosphere accompanying food, and at a time when that wine can be purchased for direct and immediate involvement in the preparation enjoyment of the meal at hand. Many of the best grocers already embrace the "eat local" philosophy and will embrace drinking locally as well. This is a plus, but not the only concern when it comes to marketing NY wines. All wines, regardless of origin, that are sold in this venues will help to build our novice wine drinkers in the food and wine culture, and to create new wine consumers. And, while the sale of NY wines has the biggest economic bang for the buck, wines produced outside of NY still contribute to the suffering NY state economy. That large body of new consumers will not be strangers to the wineries or the liquor stores.

Anyone familiar with how people are introduced to and enjoy wine realize that one's taste in wine is anything but static. Invariably the novice wine consumer will be satisfied with a handful of wines that he or she first enjoys for a while. But before long, curiosity and exploration takes hold and leads the consumer to new styles and varieties of wines, and to new outlets. These outlets include the grocery store, the winery, and the wine shop.

The economic effects of increased sales by NY wineries is far reaching. It reaches even farther than the obvious scope the wineries and the stores. The growers who grow the grapes, the supplier who sells the tractors, wire, posts. The fabricator who makes the tanks and cellar equipment. The supplier who provides bottles, corks and labels. The list goes on. Increased sales means not only more tax money but more economic prosperity all around.

My final point:

This issue is being hotly debated in Albany. And the decision will be extremely close. If you have longed for the time that you can express your political voice in a way that is truly heard, the time is now. I would encourage you to at least contact your local legislators (you can use the link below to send an email). But keep in mind, it is not only the representatives of your own district, but all of the legislators that need to hear your voice. Your voice is important, but it does not trickle down the hallways of the capital. Your voice needs to be heard, loud and clear, in each office. There are a lot of people in the capital that value your voice. To make your effort a little more manageable, I'm including a list below of some of the select people who most need to hear what you have to say.

Governor Paterson 518...header3.gif
Senator Malcolm Smith 518...
Senator Valesky 518...
Senator Aubertine 518...
Senator Stakowski 518...
Senator Foley 518...
Assemblyman Magee 518...
Speaker Silver 518...
Assemblywoman Christensen 518...
Assemblyman Parment 518...
Assemblywoman Lifton 518...
Assemblyman Canestrari 518...
Assemblywoman DelMonte 518...
Assemblywoman Eddington 518...
Assemblywoman Markey 518...
Assemblywoman Galef 518...
Assemblywoman Rosenthal 518...
Assemblyman Farrell 518-455-5491
Assemblywoman Jacobs 518-455-5385
Assemblyman Schimminger 518-455-4767

Some of the points that you may find important and want to express...

*NYS is 3rd in the nation for wine & grape production, but 46th in the nation per capita for the number of outlets to sell wine
*Wine in grocery stores does not put liquor stores out of business, in fact in the states that allow it, there are more liquor stores than in NYS
*Selling wine in grocery stores will increase sales of wine by creating NEW wine drinkers who will patronize grocery stores, wineries and liquor stores.

*35 other states allow the sale of wine in grocery stores.
*NYS is the only major grape growing state that does not allow the sale of wine in grocery stores.
*The number of liquor stores is decreasing in NYS by 60-80 per year
*There are only 2500 liquor stores left in NYS. California has 27,000 outlets to sell wine. North Carolina has 13,072 outlets
*Suppliers like tank manufacturers, label printers, bottle distributors, vineyard suppliers are all planning to expand and add jobs if NYS allows the sale of wine in food stores

David Whiting
winermaker/ co-owner
Red Newt Cellars