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Tips For Wine Importers in the UK To Grow Their On-Premise Account Base


It is about taking a comprehensive view of how you can help any on-premise establishment sell more of your wines.

Given the growing size and importance of the UK wine market, it’s only natural that wine importers in the UK are now looking for new ways to grow their on-premise account base. Being able to sell their imported wines to restaurants, pubs, taverns and clubs can have an immediate impact on the bottom line. So what’s the best way to get your wines into these establishments? After all, the wine market can sometimes seem like a zero-sum game: for your wine to get accepted at an on-premise establishment, another wine needs to be removed from that establishment’s wine list.

Adopt a year-round strategy

The good news is that most on-premise establishments rotate their wines on a regular basis, usually every quarter, and that gives a unique opportunity to gain access to this important sector of the market. At the very moment that restaurants or hospitality venues are looking to rotate their wines, you can be there with a suitable replacement. As a result, you will want to adopt a year-round strategy in terms of working to get your wines accepted at these establishments. Too many wine importers only focus on doing this during down times in the business cycle, and that means they are potentially leaving money on the table by not making this a year-round strategy.

Create a segmented database

Another important tactic for growing your on-premise account base is finding ways to segment your database. The reality, quite simply, is that not all on-premise accounts are created the same. And that means not all on-premise establishments are looking for the same types of wines. A family-oriented “fast casual” dining establishment, for example, is going to favour more budget-friendly, highly drinkable wines. In contrast, a Michelin-starred restaurant in London – such as Gordon Ramsay Chelsea or La Gavroche in Knightsbridge – is naturally going to skew much more to the higher end of the market.

So that logically presents a question that you as a wine importer must be able to answer: What are the types of on-premise establishments that make the most sense for the wines in my portfolio? As best as possible, you will need to establish a match between the wines in your portfolio and the wine lists of the on-premise establishments that are in your geographic area. Simply getting the match right can go a long way towards growing your on-premise account base.

Understand which wines are best suited for by-the-glass (BTG) programs

While it’s only natural to think in terms of bottle sales or case sales, that might not be the way restaurants, pubs and taverns are thinking about your wines. Instead, they might be thinking in terms of wines that they can offer as part of their by-the-glass program. Based on market surveys, most wines by the glass are priced in the $9 - $15 range, and that pricing can give you a lot of hints about which bottles are best suited for a BTG program. All it takes is for you to know the standard markups for your bottles of wines, and then work backwards. Most restaurants, for example, will charge the same price for a glass of wine as they pay for the bottle.

How many wines are mandated by corporate?

Another factor to keep in mind is the proportion of wines on a wine list at any on-premise establishment that corporate HQ mandates, and how many wines can be flexibly added by local establishments. For large chain restaurants, for example, it might be very difficult to get your wines onto a wine list without a mandate from corporate. In other cases, though, a restaurant might be able to work directly with suppliers to order and purchase the wines they know that local customers will drink. Obviously, you will need to adopt a two-tiered strategy here. At the outset, it might be easier to approach local restaurants that are showing up in your segmented database. Then, once you’ve established a beachhead in the marketplace, you can begin to develop a polished presentation for pitching corporate.

Generate grassroots momentum around your wines

In many ways, it’s just human nature, but on-premise accounts will be much more convinced to carry your wines if you can show that there are buzz and momentum around your wines. After all, by carrying your wines, they are making a calculated bet that they will be able to sell your wines to their customers. So if you can show that people are talking about your wines and that a groundswell of support seems to be forming, that will also go a long way towards building your on-premise account base.

There are various ways to go about building this grassroots momentum. One tactic, for example, involves social media. By setting up a Facebook or Instagram account, and then using these social media platforms to engage with wine drinkers in cities like London or Manchester, you can help to create “social proof” that your wines are gaining acceptance. If people are re-posting your images and videos of wines, it can help to show restaurants or pubs that carrying your wines is relatively risk-free, due to all the pent-up demand for your wines.

Another way to leverage grassroots momentum is by making sure that your wines are listed and reviewed on wine apps like Wine Searcher or Vivino. After all, customers are now spending more and more time with these wine apps and using the reviews there to decide which wines to buy. You can be assured that on-premise accounts with lots of younger millennial customers are also taking a strong look here as well – if they see that consumers are positively reviewing your wines, it will go a long way towards convincing these restaurants and pubs to carry your wines.

Tap into new trends and movements

On a related note, it also pays to keep an eye on new trends within the UK wine market. There are plenty of resources available – including some on the Beverage Trade Network website – that can help you spot new trends before they go fully mainstream. For example, a recent report from the Wine & Spirits Association found that demand for sparkling and Champagne wines were on the uptrend in Britain and that the top non-Champagne sparkling wine was French Crémant wine. So if you happened to have French Crémant wines in your import portfolio, this would be a perfect way to tap into this growing trend. Another trend over the past 12 months that has generated interest and momentum is anything to do with natural, biodynamic or organic wines. If customers are asking for these organic wines when they order off the menu, then it is only natural that restaurants will be keeping their eyes out for wine importers who can provide them with these wines.

Provide training and education to on-premise accounts

The more that servers, waiters, and bartenders know about your wines, the more likely they will be to recommend those wines to customers. So it makes perfect sense to consider various ways that you can help out on the training and education side. For example, you might provide a free training course on the best food pairings for your wines. Or, you might provide an overview of a certain wine varietal or style that is relatively unknown or uncommon. And, of course, you can simply provide regular tastings of your wines. Given the growing popularity of wine cocktails, some wine importers are now inviting mixologists and bartenders to come up with creative cocktails using their wines.

Take a 360-degree view of the distribution

Getting your wines into on-premise establishments also requires taking a broader view of distribution. It’s not just a matter of scheduling delivery trucks to arrive at restaurants or pubs, drop off a few cases of wine, and then depart for the next destination on the delivery schedule. You will have much more opportunity to get your wines accepted at restaurants and pubs if you take a wider view of the distribution process.

For example, think about the way that beer distributors work. They focus a lot on merchandising, and provide plenty of after-sales support, including help with marketing, media and PR. They walk into retail stores and ensure that the shelves look the way they want them to look and that their products are placed as prominently as possible within the retail location.

You can apply some of this same thinking to the way that you work with on-premise establishments. This is what “taking a 360-degree view” of distribution means. It means that you are thinking beyond just logistics and delivery, and starting to think more in terms of a partnership. The easier you make it for restaurants to sell your wines, the more likely they will be to order (and re-order) from you. In short, you need to treat on-premise accounts as partnerships, not transactions. You are selling them wines that make sense for their customer base and overall demographic, not just because you are trying to make another sale.

As can be seen above, there is a lot that goes into on-premise wine distribution. It’s not just about having high-quality wines in your wine import portfolio; it is also about taking a comprehensive view of how you can help any on-premise establishment sell more of your wines.

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