Breaking the Glass — Wine Industry Leadership in an Age of Moderation

After a brainstorming session that had summit participants asking, “What might be considered true innovation, simply an evolution, or a regression in ideas?” we mutually agreed upon four topics: Media, Health, Education and Tourism, and Packaging.

We then asked participants to imagine landing on a new planet, where it would be their job to rebuild (or create) the local wine industry. What infrastructure would they change, or even ignore, if there was no historical baggage to contend with? This thought experiment meant looking through a “What if?” lens, with the goal being to ask the right questions. We are publishing the results here in the hope of sparking an industry-wide debate.

Topic of Health in the wine industry: 
It’s becoming clear that younger generations are prioritizing their health more than previous Gen X and Boomer generations. Health and wellness are topics that are becoming more important for consumers, while the industry itself needs to think about creating more professional standards of behavior when working with, or around alcohol.

How would the wine industry on the new planet manage health and wellness?

The questions:

  • What if we made wine a healthier experience for those who produce, drink, and sell it?

From unsustainable and often unsafe working conditions for workers to excessive pressures on drinking as part of workplace culture, there needs to be a new approach.

The pressures on individuals in sales, marketing, promotional, and educational roles are multi-faceted. The physical demands of loading and carrying cases of wine at an average of 31 to around 40 pounds (14 to 18 kg) has an impact on the body, both immediately, and over time. The hospitality aspects of wine require dining and drinking at a frequency well above other business environments, which leave individuals at risk of short and long term physical and mental health issues.

Wine professionals need improved access to product education, guardrails around behavior expectations, and more defined behavior modeling in the workplace. Practical ways to help manage working in a physically demanding environment without injury, how to create and maintain a disciplined approach to alcohol in the workplace, and how to encourage individuals to seek support in managing their career where excess alcohol may be the core issue, are overdue.

Creating a more inclusive, educated and informed workforce, that encourages a high performing, functioning, alert and engaged workforce can only drive the industry to be more successful for the long-term.

  • What would it take to create a company culture that includes responsible behavior around wine?

In short, it will take a cultural shift, leadership buy-in and behavioral modeling.

As an example, here is an everyday crisis in the wine and spirits industry:

Scenario: Wine Company X decides to hold a celebratory dinner event which all staff are expected to attend.

The company’s new vintage will be showcased, and all staff are expected to taste and get to know the wines, and to socialize with other staff and even clients.

It can be quite uncomfortable for any team member to abstain, for fear of being branded a “lightweight”, effete person, suffering possible ill-health, or an employee with no regard for the company’s success.

The ability of a given staff member to ingest that amount of alcohol is, in essence, an unspoken expectation upon that staff member.

That expectation materializes without any regard for how we are all different: sex, BMI and whether one is accustomed to drinking all play a role.

Fast forward to much later in the evening of Wine Company X’s event. Inhibitions are disappearing and professional workplace boundaries are being blurred. Some people begin behaving inappropriately, perhaps becoming aggressive, or potentially harassing other staff simply because they’ve become drunk, and any semblance of professionalism has gone out the window.

This is the context in which terrible things happen. This type of scenario plays out every day. How can we help prevent it?

  • What if moderation was part of the new wine culture?

The purchase behavior for wine is changing at all levels and with that, the role of the sales function must evolve. As generational change happens to leadership in the industry, the individuals holding those roles may have a different relationship to alcohol than previous generations. Furthermore, the consumer — who may or not be a core wine consumer — is demanding ways to access information to wine that are consistent with other aspects of their daily lives.

Today’s consumer is more mobile and explorative than prior generations, with many demanding authenticity, transparency and corporate accountability in their purchasing choices.

Wine’s unique advantage to other beverage alcohol occasions is the connection to food and dining. How do we strengthen that relationship without returning to the perception of formality with white tablecloths, expensive glassware, and specified occasions?

The role of single-serve options — both as an opportunity for trial and serving options for informal gathering occasions, is critical to consider. Its value as a self-moderating option for the increasing number of consumers living in solo dwellings can be an opportunity for wine to take the place as a smaller format, mindful option.

Educating buyers about the changing consumer is critical. Providing source information that makes it easier for buyers to sell to the new consumer is equally critical.

The responsibility of the buyer is to be able to answer consumer questions, and give insights on good company behavior and social conscience. Moderation is now part of the equation, so we need to equip and empower professionals at all stages of the sales relationship with this to communicate with this new consumer.

This content is a result of the #BDWASummit which took place on May 30th to June 1st, 2019 in Liege, Belgium. The event’s purpose was to unite winners and judges from the annual BDWAs to discuss the future of the wine industry through the lens of “Truthfulness”.

Participants Included: Damien Wilson (Judge), Elizabeth Smith (Judge, Winner Tourism Content 2017), Felicity Carter (Judge), Helena Nicklin(Judge, Winner Best Video 2017), Jonathan Lipsmeyer (Judge, Winner Best Investigative Writing 2017), Paul Mabray (Judge), Al Robertson (2nd Place, Best Visual Storytelling 2018), Alice Feiring (Winner Best Food & Wine Content 2018), Ilkka Siren (Winner Best Tourism Content 2018), Marcelo Copello (Winner Sustainability Award 2018), Meg Maker(Winner Best Editorial 2018), Rebecca Hopkins (Runner-up Vinventions’ Innovation Award), Faye Cardwell (BDWA), Ryan Opaz (Founder, BDWA, DWCC and Catavino), Reka Haros (Project leader on behalf of Vinventions), Mel Cressman (Vinventions), Caroline Thomas and Vanessa Sferrazza(Vinventions)

Photos by Sven MiekeDouglas LopezZan Ilic on Unsplash

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