How Times Have Changed & So Must We

Christmas 2020 is knocking on the door. A year that has been overall difficult due to the pandemic, both out of health reasons, obviously, but also because of economic and overall mental reasons. It has been a year when becoming digitally proficient has been essential for a winery. The way we talk about and experience wine has also changed slightly.

Let us look closer at some changes in the wine sector that Covid has brought about during 2020.

To change or not to change…

When Covid hit the world and we were restricted to our homes and to keep social distancing, traditional sales channels such as Horeca, representatives, wine bars, etc. dried up quite fast. The winners were those wineries that already had a diversification of sales channels in place. They were thus able to rely on e-commerce, other online shops combined with an already existing digital strategy, and a possible shift of their tasting room activities to virtual wine experiences.

In the article, “Vino e Covid, una crisi congiunturale. Che “accelera fenomeni, non cambia paradigm”, in Wine News, they have interviewed Francesco Minetti of the communication agency Well Com who is stressing that a strategic diversification of both communication and distribution channels is of the essence. He, furthermore, says that the crisis in the wine sector due to Covid is, in his opinion, a cyclical and not a structural crisis. Francesco believes that a lot of the changes that occurred in 2020 as a result of Covid are not overturning, at least not as regards the wine sector. The world will return to its ‘old’ habits according to Francesco Minetti.

It is true that no real big structural shifts might have occurred within the wine sector due to Covid but rather that already existing phenomena and processes were exponentially sped up. However, if we look at the big picture and step out from the wine world for a while, a lot of things have happened and changed in 2020 because of Covid even if it might in some cases have been factors put in motion already before 2020. This includes digitalization, changes in globalization, a change in global political power patterns, social responsibility, social inclusion, and so forth.

Will we see a structural change in the world historically and politically, if not economically, as a result of the pandemic? Probably. In all likelihood, new habits will last together with old ones and larger shifts may very well come about whether as a result of the pandemic or in combination with other recent events. All is still to be seen.

Wine sales during Covid

As we mentioned above, the pandemic resulted in a loss of sales for many wineries in Italy during the lockdown in the spring, while there was a recovery during the summer months thanks to Italian and European tourism. Let us dive a bit deeper though as the wine picture is not as simple as that. In general, there has been a drop in sales of 10% to 20% during the last 10 months. For wineries at large, according to Wine News prediction in November, the loss will be around 25% to 30%. If we, however, look at the wineries selling via the large-scale distribution there has been an increase of 6.9% in value according to an article by Giorgio Dell’Orefice in Il Sole 24  Ore. The export of wine, especially to the US has also managed quite well despite the difficult situation this year, showing an upswing of 1.8% during the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. (See the article, Changes in consumption styles and boom in online sales on the Vinitaly website.)

Wine bottles just waiting to be bought and sent to a pleasing recipient

Photo by Yoko Correia Nishimiya on Unsplash

A traditional wine world was forced to go digital

Well, to be fair the digitalization is nothing new, rather it has been developing steadily for many years. Digital marketing and the use of live streaming for private and business purposes is nothing new either. In fact, live streaming has been a thing since the 1990s, but it was in 2015 with the launch of many of the early mobile live-streaming apps that live-streaming became a big thing. These are concepts that have been met with a bit of resistance from many in the wine world and beyond in the past though. Live streaming resources only arrived at becoming an everyday tool in the wine world with Covid. (See Live Streaming: A Brief History, Didit)

Virtual events and experiences have also become key for wineries and wine businesses when they can no longer conduct in-person meetings. Wineries have learned more and more about how to leverage virtual wine tastings and winery visits resulting in direct contact with consumers and wine professionals globally. To be successful with virtual events, it is not enough to copy the structure of physical wine tastings and events, on the contrary, you need to customize the virtual event for the audience in question. The virtual wine event should be an educational and interactive experience.

We have seen many formats for virtual tastings and events develop during the last 10 months, such as

  • Wine tastings with or without pre-ordered tasting kits
  • Wine tastings with a winery and a celebrity guest to make it fun
  • Virtual winery tours followed by interactive tastings
  • “Community giveback” wine tastings
  • Live stream tasting
  • Educational video series
  • Webinars
  • Masterclasses
  • B2B events on specific virtual platforms
  • Yoga and stretching followed by wine tasting

and much more…

Concluding remarks

The ways to experience and to buy wine as well as to communicate and sell wine have surely changed or developed in new directions during 2020. Will these changes last? Well, the digital and virtual concept is surely here to stay and will likely become an important element in business and in combination with live events in the future. Even if we, hopefully, soon will go back to meet each other and socialize in person, social distancing and a different way to relate to each other will in all probability remain for a long time. We are not discouraged though, we are all looking forward to very soon have a chat together over a glass of wine.

Written by Katarina Andersson.

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