06.28.2016  
 

Retail Wine Buyers Uncorked

Experienced off-premise buyers share the secrets of wine packaging that sells

 
by Kate Lavin
 
wine san francisco merchant packaging conference
 
Debbie Zachareas, managing partner and wine buyer for the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant (above), will discuss screwcaps, cans and other packaging choices Aug. 17 at the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference.
Yountville, Calif.—With wine consumers trading up for pricier bottles at retail outlets, off-premise wine sales are becoming even more lucrative. But how can wineries ensure their products stand out on the shelf?

Experienced wine retailers will share their knowledge of what sells—and what doesn’t—during the third annual Wines & Vines Packaging Conference taking place Aug. 17 at Lincoln Theater in Yountville. The speakers include Debbie Zachareas, managing partner and wine buyer at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, and Gary Fisch, founder of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace in New Jersey.

Each of the speakers has been in the wine business for more than two decades, sharing a bird’s eye view as wine packaging has evolved to include silkscreen, etching, multiple tiers and, of course, acceptance of the screwcap on luxury wines.

Variety and what sells

In recent years, more producers have embraced single-serve packages such as cans and PET glasses, but do they sell? According to Zachareas, whose retail outlet is located at a popular ferry terminal in San Francisco, the answer is yes. Zachareas originally was unsure how her clientele would react to Underwood Pinot Noir and rosé in 375ml cans, but the format has proven to be a natural fit for commuters waiting for a ferry or shoppers looking to enjoy some wine to go.

And while bottles still dominate the marketplace, glass producers are offering wineries an expanded number of sizes, styles and colors, depending on what the winery hopes to achieve with its design. Transparent bottles, for example, allow consumers to see the color of the wine inside (a real draw for summer favorite rosé), but they offer less protection from the sun. Lightweight bottles, meanwhile, can cut down on shipping costs, though some traditionalists correlate a heavy bottle with wine quality.

Zachareas plans to show examples of packaging that sells and explain what makes it a hit with her and her customers. Alternately, she’ll give examples of packaging that misses the mark and why.

Winning over the trade
Jim Gordon, editor of conference host Wines & Vines magazine, explains that the importance of packaging is not exclusive to the consumer. “Learn how the retail trade views your packaging,” he advises. “How important is packaging in their purchase decisions of your wine?”
 
Fisch, who owns four brick-and-mortar stores and runs the website garyswine.com, says that when he considers shelving a new product from a winery or distributor, the first thing he considers is the packaging; the next is taste, and next is price.

“If the packaging is terrible, he won’t go any further,” Gordon says. “That, in a nutshell, says how important this conference is. You won’t even be considered by some retailers if your packaging doesn’t get you in the door.”

The Wines & Vines Packaging Conference is an all-day seminar and trade show devoted to wine packaging. Other sessions include bottling tips from the experts, market research related to wine packaging and lessons from a packaging icon (see “Michael David Succeeds With Packaging”). 

Attendees will also get a chance to vote in the 2016 Wines & Vines Packaging Design Awards.

To register for the Wines & Vines Packaging Conference, visit wvpack.com.

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