Italian wines are undergoing a renaissance. Does the industry have the structure to sustain it?
Italian wines are having one of their sunniest moments of the past two decades. It is one of the top countries of origin for wine in terms of volume, value and consumer purchase rate in the 5 most attractive markets in the world (according to the Wine Intelligence Compass 2015-16 Report); US, Japan, UK, Germany and Switzerland. Italians are proud that consumers all over the world perceive Italy as a country with a great heritage and valuable, traditional wines, and every morning we Italians give thanks for such a beautiful country which lends our wines the romantic image of country hills and cypresses.
It is important to remember that things weren’t always like this. As Angelo Gaja rightly pointed out at Vinitaly 2013, to get to paradise we had to go through hell and hard times when, back in the 1970s, Italian wine was seen as cheap, cheerful. . . . and not much else. It took more than three decades and the hard work of Italian wine visionaries to build up a strong connection with consumers and the powerful Italian brand image we are benefiting from today.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak at a seminar about Consumer Trends at wine2wine, a business forum organised by Vinitaly International in Verona. I was able to meet lots of wine professionals working in different areas of businesses and organizations with different backgrounds, and I participated in a couple of seminars too. In this way, I had the chance to see how the mood is in the Italian wine circles and exchange ideas and thoughts with a very wine business oriented network. From what I learned, I got the feeling that as Italians we sometimes tend to focus a little too much on what we have achieved and current positive trends, but when we look to the future we prefer, as Henry Ford put it, “stop the watch to save time”.
Sometimes when faced with a problem (e.g. how to face new emerging markets), we fail to tackle the issue head on, for example by creating a network of companies to face it together.
We talk about strategy, but most find it hard to look beyond the next growing season.
We talk about storytelling and communicating clear, up to date and appropriate messages to consumers (I talked about this in my seminar), but most winery and consortium websites are still communicating “news” from 2014.
The question we need to ask is this: is Italy as a brand going to remain at the top in years to come? Will “tradition and Heritage” still count and pay back?
For me, the industry needs to follow three strategies to maintain its positive momentum:
Create a genuine collective strategy for new markets: Italy is probably the most fragmented wine business that is also seriously successful in international markets. How much longer will we be able to get away with this imbalance? Collective marketing isn’t always the answer, but collective action to understand markets and set overall strategy might benefit all players.
Use language that consumers understand: Start recognising the world from the consumer’s point of view. Tell consumers about your product in a language they will understand. Remember that they are unlikely to have as much time or energy to care about the product as you do
(Don’t stop) thinking about tomorrow: Market research, by nature, supplies us with lots of information on current and past trends. The difficult thing is translating these into forward-looking insights to understand how markets and consumers will change.