Blog: James WilmoreLIWF 2012: Where was the fun of the fair?

James Wilmore | 25 May 2012

What's eating the grape industry?

I'd had a heads-up what the mood might be at the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) this week after being summoned to an unprecedented pre-event briefing by the organisers, where the broad message was: ignore all the carping, it's going to be brilliant! Was it brilliant? I'll leave you to make your own minds up.

But what struck me was a general air of despondence – particularly in the seminars. I'm told this is not a new thing. The only man who seemed vaguely chirpy was Dan Jago of Tesco. But then he would - he works for Tesco. (The story about his dad inventing Bailey's got an airing.)  

He did have a moan though about the lack of innovation in the wine industry at the moment – in the product itself and marketing. At the same seminar, this was contrasted with the runaway success of Scottish craft brewer BrewDog.

Propelled by a razorsharp PR firm, Manifest, the Fraserburgh brewer is taking a relatively niche product to the masses in a fun and social media-savvy way. (Although many industry hacks I speak to have long grown weary of their guerilla-publicity tactics.) 

Can a wine brand do a BrewDog? The general feeling was it was too much of a risk. But as Jago noted: “There's a lot of wines inhabiting a narrow flavour space”.

Slightly rich, some might think, as he went on to talk about the success of Tesco's Simply range, launched last summer, which includes Simply Sauvignon Blanc, Simply Muscadet... you get the idea. But with private label proving increasingly popular in these straightened times (45% of wine now bought in Germany is private label), these kind of products will be around for a while yet. 

Another point, raised by writer Jamie Goode, was that consumers often feel confused by the “wall of wine”  in a store.

And, as a first-timer walking around LIWF, this point resonated for me. So, though not aimed at Joe and Josephine Public, the fair would surely do itself no favours if, as occassionally mooted, it did allow non-trade folk in. Plus, some exhibitors, I understand, would hang their corkscrews up, never to return. 

Lastly, I appreciate it's a place to do business for most, but was left thinking, where was the fun of the fair? 

Follow me on Twittter: @jamescwilmore


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