Capital gains: will a venue move and new approach make the London Wine Fair a success?

12 May, 2014

The eyes of the trade are on the London Wine Fair as it gears up for a make-or-break event. A more central location, a broader welcome for suppliers and retailers of all sizes and a domestic, rather than international, focus are all hoped to “re-energise” and “reinvigorate” the fair – and now show organisers are waiting with bated breath to see if the changes will be enough to make it a success.

Organiser Brintex has tempted back exhibitors who had abandoned the show by slashing stand prices, opening the fair to smaller players who might prove more attractive to the increasingly important independent market, and moving back to Olympia from Excel, where the fair had been held for the past 13 years.

But it is the type of visitor the new-look event attracts that will determine whether exhibitors return in 2015. Exhibition director Ross Carter is targeting 11,500 visitors – but knows quality is even more important than numbers this year.

Accolade Wines is one of a number of high-profile suppliers who have pulled out of the fair in recent years but who are returning in 2014.

UK general manager Paul Schaafsma says: “The revised format and change to a domestic focus for the show made the London Wine Fair a serious proposition once more. This market needs its own wine show and we felt that, going back to its central location, it had once again become a viable option for Accolade Wines.

“The people who attend must be relevant to our business across all channels of the market. At some other shows the focus is very commercial, and I believe the LWF, as it was, had lost its edge on that level.

“It is key that it doesn’t just become all about networking and meeting up with old friends, but that business is done. If the organisers can deliver what they are promising then we will certainly consider being there again in 12 months’ time.”

Australian Vintage is also back at the fair and UK & Europe general manager Julian Dyer has praised Brintex for taking on board feedback from exhibitors. Carter says he has had “literally hundreds” of conversations over the past year.

Dyer says: “It already feels re- energised and more relevant to the way the industry has changed in recent years. It’s still important to have a focal point for international and domestic customers and the LWF offers this, but now in a much more central, accessible location, making it easier for people to dip in and out of, rather than being in a bit of a bubble of its own on the outskirts of London.

“If it attracts more than 10,000 people, as it expects to, and we see a good number of the key figures we would expect at an event of this calibre, then that will certainly get us making plans to return in 2015 – as long as it continues to offer value for money.”

He adds: “The London Wine Fair must be a business fair – cost-effective and relevant. It is crucial that we send out a strong message about the UK wine trade – open for business and a crucial market not to be ignored.”

Negociants UK managing director Simon Thorpe MW says it would be “churlish” not to support the fair after organisers have been “bending over backwards to meet our requirements”.

He says: “They really have been doing everything to attract the right audience, which is fundamental, and this year’s show looks like it will offer a number of exciting new initiatives to re-engage with the UK trade. There has been a significant change in attitude, which is very much more collaborative, so we want to embrace this and give it every chance.”

For Mentzendorff, the move to Olympia was enough of a draw. Managing director Andrew Hawes says: “It places the fair back in the heart of the most exciting, most vibrant city in the UK market for wine currently. The fact that it is now so accessible to our thriving customer base of top hotels, restaurants and independent specialists in London is key.”

He is looking for “a return on investment – not just for Mentzendorff, but for the UK wine industry as a whole”. He adds: “This is a key year, and directionally the fair needs to prove a return to promoting the pre-eminent place of the UK in the global wine industry as a whole.”

Louis Latour Agencies managing director Will Oatley is hoping the change in location will draw sommeliers back to the LWF.

“Their absence at Excel became apparent over the past couple of years,” he says. “The London on- trade continues to be an incredibly buoyant market so we need to do everything possible to bring the sommeliers back en masse.

“There is undoubtedly a great deal more competition now with Prowein going from strength to strength, so the wine fair will need to innovate and provide a point of difference.”

Free Run Wines did not exhibit last year – and sales and marketing executive Kit Ellen admits this “may have been a mistake”.

“We have found it is useful to have a base at these functions rather than walking around trying to find people and business. Honestly, location is not really a big factor in our decision to return – Prowein is not exactly easy to get to, but we all go because it is one of the best fairs. As agents and importers to the UK, this is our major market, and the LWF is still the main event in this country,” he says.

“We will need to see an adequate return on our investment – key industry decision makers visiting our stall and engaging with us and our suppliers. This is still an expensive fair, and we are making a large investment to be there this year. All the extra attractions and fanfares are really only interesting to visitors. As an exhibitor, we want to see a well-run, cohesive fair which creates relevant and tangible opportunities in return for our money and attendance.”

New exhibitor Broadland Wineries was attracted by the fair’s “reinvigoration”, and marketing manager Ben Cameron hopes to see “quality and diversity of people from across the trade”.

Other returnees, such as PLB, Castelnau Wine Agencies and De Bortoli are looking for “customer participation from all channels”, “worthwhile meetings with buyers” and “genuine business opportunities”.

De Bortoli UK general manager Mark Wilson says: “Ideally this will mean gaining a new and extended customer base who have been introduced to De Bortoli by our presence there. We want to experience a buzz in terms of positive footfall and a sense that the UK wine trade is innovative and exciting and that the LWF is a place we need to be, as a business committed to the UK market. We hope to come away with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the potential of wine in the UK.”

Exhibitors particularly want to see more on-trade buyers and independents at the fair.

Independent chain Borough Wines, which is also an importer, is exhibiting for the first time. Sales and marketing director Jess Scarratt tells OLN: “This year’s fair has renewed vigour and we wanted to be a part of that. More specifically, the introduction of Esoterica has given us an affordable opportunity to exhibit alongside like-minded companies who will attract our target customer. It is a very exciting addition indeed.

“I hope to see more of the trade supporting the fair – last year’s had a somewhat pessimistic feel due to its decrease in size and numbers and the general feeling was that everyone just wanted to get through it as quickly as possible.”

Wines of South Africa returns to the fair after a year’s absence, tempted in by a more cost-effective package for generics that makes it more affordable for smaller and new producers to exhibit.

UK market manager Jo Wehring says: “We hope to see a strong turnout of UK buyers, especially the independent sector and on-trade, as well as the multiple grocers.

“South Africa saw strong growth in the UK market during 2013 and a trade show targeting the UK trade is a worthwhile venture.

“If the LWF can achieve what Brintex hopes and be a showcase for the UK wine trade, an event where exhibitors are exposed to a wide range of buyers and importers, then it will be a success.”

But the generics package was not enough to draw New Zealand Winegrowers, which says its own trade tastings and its pavilion at Prowein reach its target audience of buyers, media and trade in a cost- effective way. Marketing manager Chris Stroud says he will visit the fair, where New Zealand wineries will be exhibiting with their agencies. “I have no doubt Brintex is on the right track to rebuilding the profile of the LWF,” he says.

Liberty Wines is one of a number of suppliers – including Boutinot, Pernod Ricard and Alliance Wines – who have chosen not to return this year.

Managing director David Gleave blames the event’s timing and “existing commitments”, but says: “We will continue to evaluate the wine fair on an annual basis. We recognise that Brintex has made some positive changes and we will watch closely to see what happens this year.”

What to expect from the fair

"We like the concept of events within an event,” says exhibition director Ross Carter, who has organised the fair into themed areas to make it easier to navigate and give it a different feel from previous years.

ESOTERICA

An area devoted to small-scale, specialist and hard-to-find wines. More than 1,000 wines from 61 companies, 90% of which have never taken part in the wine fair before. Carter says: “This is a new concept which means small UK operations can take part for the first time.”

BREWHOUSE

A craft beer section showcasing 20 brewers, after OLN hosted a pop-up tasting of beers from its International Beer Challenge in 2014. “Craft beer is important to independent retail,” says Carter. The area is being curated by beer writer Sophie Atherton, who will hold several tastings. Harbour Brewing, Harviestoun, Liberty Beer, Fordham & Dominion American craft beers, Meantime, Portobello, Freedom Brewery and Williams Bros Brewery will be among the exhibitors.

BULK

A designated area for bulk producers and brokers, with a symposium of debates and discussion relevant to the market, with subjects including bottling lines and labelling. Fifteen producers will be exhibiting. Carter says: “Bulk plays a more and more important role in the UK market. WhenIwasatPLBIfeltitwouldbegoodif there was an area at the fair I could go to to supply the volumes I was seeking for some of our multiple retail listings.”

SERVICES

A dedicated area for companies offering glassware, closures, insurance and anything else show visitors might need.

PARTIES

Off Licence News and Origin Wines are hosting an Iconic Party at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, one of the most iconic venues in the history of TV, from 6.30pm on June 3. There will be street food and a catwalk fashion show of the most iconic drinks brands of all time, created by a top designer. Origin will provide the wines and Brockman’s will host a gin cocktail bar. Invitation only.

Brintex is teaming up with the Benevolent to host a party at Kensington Roof Gardens from 7.30pm on June 4 to raise cash for the trade charity. Tickets cost £45 and cover wine, barbecue food and entertainment. Contact eleanor. perry@thebenevolent.org.uk.

WI-FI

There will be free wi-fi for all exhibitors and visitors. “This is rare at exhibitions, because of the cost,” says Carter. “The venue is charging well in excess of £10,000 for wi-fi, but it is important, particularly for overseas visitors.”

FOOD

Three deli stands serving breads, cheeses, cured hams, salads, olives and more will join the usual sandwich and coffee bars. “Excel left a little to be desired,” admits Carter. “With a room full of the world’s finest and most diverse wines, the food has to compete.”

RESEARCH

To keep up with competitors Prowein and Vinexpo, the LWF will be publishing research into younger consumers by Wine Intelligence, sponsored by Cobevco.

MY WINE FAIR

All visitors can register for this free online service that allows them to browse exhibitors and choose and manage those they are most interested in.

SEMINARS AND TASTINGS

There will be some 200 masterclasses, industry briefings, seminars and tastings over the three days, including for the first time a tasting of Cru Bourgeois wines.

MEETING SPACES

Gastrocircus is returning to the LWF with a Bedford J2 Bus and its “gastrocab” – two mini spaces which can be booked for tastings, meetings and lunches. To find out more visit gastrocircus.com.

GLASSWARE

ISO glasses will be available free to visitors as usual, but they will also have the option of a Riedel glass for a deposit of £3. At the end of the day they can return the glass and collect a token for another glass the next day, and at the end of the fair they can either collect their deposit or take the glass home to keep. Boxes of six will also be available to take home at £18.

LONDON WINE WEEK

A consumer event run by ABV Global, the company behind London Cocktail Week. A £10 wristband entitles participants to premium wines by the glass or taster flights of wines for £5 in more than 100 bars across the capital, as well as deals and discounts from independent wine merchants around London. They can also order specially designed pairing menus from a number of restaurants and bars. Retailers taking part include Roberson, Negozio, Bluebird Wine Cellar, Hedonism, Around Wines, Berry Bros & Rudd, Borough Wines and Bedales.





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