| A Tale of Two Cities 12 June 2012
I have been back from my travels over a week now, plenty of time to reflect on our two most recent experiences, the London International Wine Trade Fair and Vinexpo Hong Kong.
The London fair was the first wine trade show that I ever attended. It was 2000 and the UK wine market was the most exciting in the world. The South African government sponsored our stand (those were the days!) and we couldn`t accommodate all the producers who wanted to be there. Over 60% of our exports were going to the UK, and they were growing fast. For the next few years the LWITF was the place to be. The show was always packed with people, and WOSA did exciting things like offering boerewors rolls on the station, building a bridge over the aisle between our 2 stands, and importing an a capella band from Khayamandi to sing and dance traditional rhythms from Africa.
Sadly all that energy has gone from the LWITF. Our stand was busy because of the popularity of our pods, but overall it felt as if the Fair is stagnating. It is not the fault of the organizers, but rather a reflection of the UK market. James Murray has said that the show "continues to provide a platform for doing business in the UK." And therein lies the problem. Fewer and fewer wineries want to invest in doing business in the UK. We battled to fill our stand as, in these tough times, many of our producers no longer feel the return on investment is worth it. Today direct exports to the UK are only 22% of our business (although a substantial amount of bulk is being bottled in mainland Europe and reshipped to the UK so the figure is misleading).
By contrast China has become the Holy Grail of global wine marketing and WOSA could have sold three times the space we were allocated at Vinexpo despite the fact that it cost the wineries 44% more to be there. And Vinexpo Hong Kong was buzzing, just the way Olympia used to buzz. It was a smaller show than LWTF and apparently only had 2000 more visitors. But it certainly was a glamfest. The Bold and Beautiful of Bordeaux were all there, along with all wine regions French and Fabulous. There were some stunning stands, and the organizer`s offices, with their waterfalls and hanging gardens belonged on Madison Avenue. And everyone seemed happy; certainly our producers were all very positive about their experience.
What a difference a decade has made to the wine world. The UK is still a great market and still a huge chunk of our exports, with our premium wines doing really well there. But we need to find more dynamic and less expensive ways to grow it for South Africa.
Su Birch 12 June 2012