Posted on | May 28, 2013
Written by | Kristen Wolfe Bieler
Over the course of three days in April, nearly 2,300 industry members gathered in Orlando for what turned out to be one of the best WSWA Conventions ever. “This year, we sold out every inch of space—every exhibit booth, every traditional suite, every lower level suite, every room in this property, two full hotels plus overflow rooms at nearby hotels—and we did it earlier than we ever have before,” WSWA President and CEO Craig Wolf said.
Highlights included keynote presentations from Hall of Fame quarterback and NFL broadcaster Terry Bradshaw and real estate mogul and television personality Barbara Corcoran. A number of industry leaders were honored, including Richard Leventhal, chairman of New Jersey-based Fedway Associates, who received the Lifetime Leadership Award (see sidebar). Mark Teasdale, president and CEO of Proximo Spirits, Inc., received the Sidney Frank Award, given by the WSWA Educational Foundation to an industry member who has made exceptional philanthropic contributions. Teasdale’s extensive community support includes his work with the Wounded Warrior Foundation, the group to which he donated the award’s $10,000 grant.
On the third day of the convention, John Beaudette, CEO of importer/distributor MHW discussed the great opportunities created by growth—spirits were up 3.6% and wine up 1.9% in 2012—as well as difficulties created by a growing number of SKUs, consolidation and direct-to-consumer sales. It has become increasingly challenging for small brands, he explained, given that the top 10 distributors represent nearly 70% of the industry, which translates into many small brands not getting the attention they need to catch on. One important evolution: wine wholesalers getting into craft spirits and large wine suppliers adding spirits to their portfolios (Trinchero, for example, now has Tres Agaves and Cruz Tequila).
Incoming WSWA President Doug Hertz sent the message: Evolve your business or become obsolete. The president of United Distributors in Atlanta, Hertz estimates that 20% of his company’s volume is from products they did not sell five years ago. And these same brands represent 80% of the company’s growth.
Competitions Tap Winners
The WSWA 70th Annual Convention & Exposition also crowned winners in four distinct competitions: the Hoptails Mixology Competition, Wine & Spirits Tasting Competitions, Call for Cocktails: Mixology Competition, and the Wholesaler Iron Mixologist Competition. (A complete list of all winners and selected recipes are available here.)
The Hoptails Mixology Competition resulted in a First Place medal for Lucas Bols, USA, for the cocktail Delightful Deception created by the company’s mixologist, Anthony Pullen. The drink features Bols Yogurt, the newest (and suprisingly delicious) flavor in the brand’s liqueur line-up. Ty Ku Saké & Spirits won the Call for Cocktails Competition with Aroma Coma, a drink showcasing Ty Ku’s Coconut Nigori Saké created by mixologist Ro Patel from the Sling Bar Company.
WSWA presented the Hot, New, Now Media award based on nominations from the more than 65 industry and lifestyle journalists who attended. The winner of this award was the “mü” product line from LiDestri Spirits. A café-inspired line of creamy wine cocktails from upstate New York, mü (rhymes with you) plays off the notion “coffee break meets happy hour” with three flavors—Vanilla Latté, Chocolate Chai and Coco Cappucino—available both in 750ml bottles and 1.5L pouches. Thanks to contacts made at the convention, LiDestri is going to be able to open up several new markets this year.
Brands to Watch
As in past years, the convention proved to be a launch pad for new products, such as the above-mentioned Bols Yogurt Liqueur and mü premixed cocktails. Some were truly unique, such as The Bay Seasoned Vodka, a four-times-distilled vodka infused with classic Chesapeake Bay seasonings (celery seed, mustard, paprika, cardamom, etc.)—ideal in Bloody Marys. And Vision Wine & Spirits launched four varietal wines under the new Wine For Dummies label. Blue Chair Bay Rum, a trio of new Caribbean rums which are just rolling out across the country, hosted a meet-and-greet attended by brand owner, famous country musician Kenny Chesney. The other blow-out event: XB Sex on the Beach, a ready-to-drink punch, threw a Monday night party to launch their brand.
Other once-new brands were in attendance, with impressive market traction to report. Pisco Portón, which launched only two years ago, is now one of the industry’s fastest growing brands (and voted Best Pisco at the San Francisco Spirits Competition). And celebrity Dan Aykroyd was in attendance, chatting up wholesalers on behalf of his Crystal Head Vodka.
Mark your calendars: Next year’s WSWA convention will be held April 7-9, 2014 in Las Vegas.
Lifetime Leader: Fedway’s Richard Leventhal
Each year, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America presents one Lifetime Leadership Award, to a wholesaler whose contribution to the association and the alcohol beverage industry defines excellence, inspires loyalty and exemplifies leadership. No one displayed these characteristics more dramatically this year than Richard Leventhal.
New Jersey-based Fedway Associates suffered catastrophic losses to equipment, facilities and inventory in the wake of Superstorm Sandy last fall. Miraculously, within weeks of the disaster, Fedway was back in business—a direct result of Richard’s perseverance, inspiration and visionary leadership.
In addition to his ongoing effective leadership in the beverage alcohol industry, Richard Leventhal is a longtime supporter of all levels of education; he has endowed a scholarship at the University of Chicago, provided challenge grants for local public schools, and led a major capital campaign for a local private school. Active on numerous charitable boards, his philanthropic efforts include generous support of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and United Jewish Appeal, among many others.