Vinitaly - The other '4Ps' of Italian wine

While the textbook definition of the 4Ps Product, Place, Price & Promotion might be used to explain the success of Italian wine in export markets, the truth is that the category benefits more from another set of 4Ps: Pizza, Pasta, Prosecco and Pinot Grigio, as seen at this year’s Vinitaly 

In ancient Greece, wars were interrupted and weapons put down so that enemies could compete with one another (peacefully) in the Olympic Games, such was its importance.  In a similar way, the annual Vinitaly trade show in Verona is becoming more than just a place to sell wine. This year the show featured people from many different backgrounds such as politics, institutions, journalism, entertainment and glamour. In light of the ongoing negotiations to form a new government 45 days after the last elections, a number of mainstream politicians attended the fair in search of visibility – all with a glass of wine in their hand. However even the politicians were outnumbered by the legion of chefs and celebrities of Italian cuisine, who were invited as special guests to stands and pavillions to cook for selected audiences.  And so Vinitaly, for almost a week, has basked in the intense light of mainstream national media attention.

The food ‘invasion’ at Vinitaly is very appropriate. Connecting wine with pasta and pizza is part of a strategy to promote food and wine ‘made in Italy’ both at domestic and international level.  During the event, common promotional projects by some of the biggest wine and food PDO consortia (like those that protect the buffalo mozzarella, the Italian tomato, ham and even the same traditional pizza) were presented. One example is the new Prosecco Wine list that will be found in the main pizzerias to explain how the famous bubbles pair with pizza better than beer. This strategy will also be replicated abroad (starting from the USA) through targeted events that aim to educate consumers about the identity of these successful icons of the ‘Italian genio’ (to quote the Prosecco DOC claim).

This was my 20th consecutive year attending Vinitaly. Throughout these years, the Italian wine industry has changed immensely. For example, the importance of regions and denominations of origin has changed, with the emergence of bubbles (20 years ago, Prosecco was a Cinderella in the enological sense) and the growth of several brands and the improvement in quality and consistency in Southern Italy.

Although VeronaFiere, the body that has been organizing  Vinitaly for 52 years, tries to characterize the event as one for B2B (to increase the attendence of foreign buyers), Vinitaly remains a popular party where the world of Italian wine (and a few other countries) is put on display in all its many faces. This year, more than 4,380 exhibiting companies attended the 4-day event (130 more than last year) from 36 countries presenting more than 15,100 wines to 128,000 visitors from 143 countries.

Criticized, discussed, loved or hated, Vinitaly has been able to change skin several times, succeeding in recent years to be characterized by a more international flavour, thanks to the success of the bigger international brands coming from Italy. Exports, in fact, now account for a huge share of these wineries’ turnover, as confirmed by the latest report by Mediobanca, the business bank that analyzes the sector’s annual financial statements.

If Vinitaly has confirmed to be a reliable thermometer to measure the health of the Italian wine industry, it is also the place for seminars, press conferences, presentation of research and statistics. Never as before this year have we read numbers and figures on markets, consumers, purchases, competitors, growth estimates, sparkling wine success, but also on the premiumization of wine in retail, the emerging on-line channel and the affirmation of organic wines (see Wine Intelligence’s article Il boom dei vini naturali).

Data confirming that the mature Italian market is now polarized between reliable brands (both corporate or denomination of origin) and a growing ferment in the segment of small artisanal producers, while wine exports, although growing, must find some alternative to the ‘big 3 markets’: USA, UK and Germany. During our meetings and visits we heard several wine industry professionals who, after a few years, return to talk about Russia as the possible fourth pillar, despite the obvious political risk. The idea of China as the fourth pillar seems to be waning since major commercial and promotional investments have had less significant results than other competitors (France, Australia, Spain or Chile).

Pinot Grigio is still an impressive successful phenomenon abroad, being the image of Italian white wine; however, it is not among the first 20 varietals of wine consumed in the domestic market, as emerged from the latest data on retail sales presented during Vinitaly. In Verona, the state of the art of the new denomination ‘Pinot Grigio delle Venezie’ was presented, one year after its recognition and a few months after its first harvest. This ‘superDOC’ (the largest in terms of geographical surface) will become one of the big 3 wine appellations in Italy, with a potential of 280 million bottles. We at Wine Intelligence have experienced how a popular drink is Pinot Grigio among the off-trade and casual on-trade consumers. With the clouds approaching the UK restaurant sector, according to our new UK On-trade Trends report, will the DOC recognition itself succeed to elevate the perception of the wine?

This time wine couldn’t solve all political woes as the Olympic Games once did, but Vinitaly appears to be in robust health, reflecting the strategic importance of the sector for the Italian GDP as well as for its export. Meanwhile, producers will continue to take their suitcase and travel the world promoting the great diversity of Italian wines – a diversity that consumers still love to pair with the true Italian cuisine.

Author: Pierpaolo Penco