The largely unchecked growth of the World Wide Web is being widely recognised. It has become an indispensable tool for individuals and companies alike, but that also means that the Web is a potential minefield.

The appreciation of these problems is leading the major players in the drinks trade to a conference which will he held in London in September.

How does the web-based drinks trader attract attention to his site when it is just one small corner of the vast mass of information which is the Internet? And, more importantly perhaps, how then does he make it a viable business at a time when dotcom companies seem to rise and fall almost overnight?

To help answer these questions - and more - the Drinks Buyer Group of magazines is organising the conference in London on September 19 and 20 dedicated to e-commerce in the drinks industry. The event, entitled edrinksconference.com, will bring together experts from the drinks trade and the Internet business to discuss the pitfalls - and the opportunities - of web trading.

Representatives from such companies as Bass Brewers, Diageo, Seagram, Carlsberg and Berry Bros & Rudd will be taking part, and senior people from companies like B2Bwine.com, Bevaccess.com and Wine Trade Processing Network will be discussing the business.

Places for the conference are already in short supply as key members of the trade are booking to make sure of their seats. The edrinksconference.com, organised by the Drinks Buyer Group in association with TenLive, will be held at the Royal Garden Hotel, London on September 19 and 20, with an optional workshop on September 21.

For full, up-to-date details, visit the website at www.edrinksconference.com, or contact Willem Borst on: Tel +44 1732 451515; Fax +44 1732 451383; e-mail: willem@edrinksconference.com.

A complicated business

Martin Focazio, vice president of marketing at BevAccess.com, which is sponsoring a special workshop after the conference, called drinks trading via the Internet "a complicated business".

In the US, he said, "it's far easier for a person to buy a handgun by mail than it is a bottle of Merlot". But this is changing, and not just in the US. "In all parts of the world, the drinks business is realising that the complex rules of commerce in this sector lend themselves rather nicely to Internet-based trading."

BevAccess.com claims to be the first industry exchange for the beverage alcohol trade, providing wholesale buyers and sellers with fast, centralised ordering. Its founders, Greg Ahnert and Derek Bromley - who will also speak at the conference - are both former wholesale buyers, and started BevAccess.com out of frustration with the time-consuming purchasing process.

In the areas of procurement and logistics in particular, Focazio said, the open technology of the Internet - which allows buyers to procure goods from any vendor anywhere - can lead to substantial margin growth. "The simple mathematics of lowered operating expenses will push the drinks industry (and all others) into this model as a matter of basic survival."

BevAccess is running a special workshop on September 21 on business-to-business (B2B) trading via the Internet. Focazio firmly believes that this is the future for the drinks industry - "it's going to be e-business or out-of-business" - but the Internet should not replace the "old ways". The workshop will look at how an e-business initiative can have a positive effect on what Focazio called the "offline activities" of a company.

The eSkye's no limit

Joining Focazio and Bromley on the speakers' podium will be Smoke Wallin, founder and CEO of eSkye.com, a leading supplier of e-business services for the drinks industry. Wallin will be discussing how the Internet is likely to affect the drinks trade and how companies such as eSkye can help facilitate web-based trading for retailers, distributors and suppliers.

According to Wallin, "the biggest impediment to consolidated purchasing in the beverage industry is the lack of a single, industry-wide catalogue of products linked to the distributors which have the product franchise in a specific geographical area." eSkye has developed a software system called eBOTS, which standardises product and transaction information. New technology such as this, combined with the vast wealth of information about products provided by the likes of BevAccess, is revolutionising the way drinks are bought and sold.

Consumers important too

But the presence of drinks companies on the Internet is not limited to trading. Many companies have websites aimed entirely at the end user of their products - the consumer.

Nils Boe Sorensen, head of interactive marketing at Danish brewer Carlsberg and another speaker at the conference, sees the Internet as an indispensable marketing tool. "The web has made it far easier to co-ordinate promotions and marketing worldwide - in fact I wonder how Carlsberg ever managed before the Internet," Sorensen said.

Much of Carlsberg beer is brewed under licence by local producers, and the same is true for the marketing. The Internet lends a global perspective to these local campaigns, with the local website often used as an entry point for the main corporate site.