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The 75th WSWA Convention was Full of Great Deals and Discussion

There were all kinds of ideas being discussed at the the 75th annual Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America Convention (WSWA), which ended on Thursday in Las Vegas. As the new chairman of WSWA, Barkley Stuart, told Wine Enthusiast, “There are brand trends, there are market trends and there are all kinds of challenges.”

Putting More Women in Charge

Stuart, executive vice president of federal government affairs at Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, gave himself a challenge for his yearlong chairmanship of the 400-member organization: bring more women into the business at higher levels.

“I have a personal history, because of my mother…Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan were regulars at our house,” he recalled. His mother, Martha Stuart, was an independent video producer best known for the television series, Are You Listening. The program explored the experiences of widowhood, abortion and other issues during the ’60s and ’70s.

Stuart remembered how she took him to the first United Nations women’s conference in Mexico City in 1975. “It was me and 5,000 other women, and we produced a documentary on global women leaders.”

So, it came as no surprise that Stuart, who also sits on the board of the Women of the Vine & Spirits Association, welcomed Sue McCollum, of Major Brands of Missouri, to WSWA’s Executive Committee, making her the first woman to join the board in the group’s 75-year history.

The Macro-Movement in the Industry

The market research firm IWSR, which has been collecting data on the industry for 40 years, told some of the more than 2,700 attendees that it expects wine sales to grow 1% in 2018. Brandy Rand, IWSR’s U.S. president, added that the number of people drinking alcoholic beverages is shrinking. She cited the healthy lifestyle trend that has arisen among the younger generation—especially in Europe—as consumers are turning to non-alcoholic beverages.

There’s also been a shift in the types of alcoholic beverages consumers want.

“We’re seeing the rise of low-calorie, zero-calorie cocktails and wine,” Rand said. She noted Weight Watchers has licensed a wine brand, Cense (3 points a glass) and brewers in the beer bastion countries of Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany are now producing high-quality, low-alcohol beers.

There’s also been a greater demand for 100-calorie size and smaller portions, which has spurred the rise of small sizes for wines and spirits, she said.

Today’s consumer has also come to expect the “mashup of flavors” beyond root beer-flavored Oreos, Dorito Tacos and Ocean Spray Mocktails. “Suddenly, things that were weird before are not,” Rand said, citing wine in cocktails, sparkling water cocktails, even wine and cocktails in cans.

Convenience is Key

Warby Parker delivers eyeglasses, the Dollar Shave Club ships razors and there’s dozens of cooking kit companies that will ship food in the right portions with the recipe to your home, Rand noted. Hence the rise of Drizly, an alcohol delivery service, which has a strategic alliance with the WSWA.

In the digital age, consumers of all ages are saying, “I want what I want when I want it,” Rand said. Convenience is, in part, why one in four U.S. retailers are expected to declare bankruptcy in the next five years.

IWSR expects the premiumization trend to continue as people choose to stay home and entertain as opposed to going out to meet friends.

“People are willing to spend more money on products because they can have it at home. They understand the markup. We see growth across premiumization in spirits and wines.”