Juanita Duggan’s and the Wine Wholesalers’ “Hail Mary” Pass

FERMENTATION has obtained a copy of an e-mail that the Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Association’s (WSWA) president Juanita Duggan sent to a number of trade associations yesterday, a day before the release of a "survey" on on-line alcohol sales. The e-mail strikes this writer as a "stick this in your bottle" kind of parting communication that comes on the eve of Duggan’s departure from the world of wine.

Duggan is doing her best in the waning hours she has at WSWA (she’s already resigned to take another position) to right the wrong that has occurred under her tenure. In the time she has been at the helm of the WSWA, we have seen a Supreme Court decision that essentially slapped down the wholesalers retrograde and anti-consumer stand on direct shipping of wine, a number of new states open their borders to the direct shipment of wine to consumers, and a general dismissal in the media of the wine wholesalers faux concern for minors ad the degree to which they are accessing alcohol on line.

It appears that Duggan is doing whatever she can to salvage what has been a major b-tch slapping of the wholesalers during her time as the head of that group’s main trade association.

In her e-mail to various trade associations Duggan writes:

"I wanted to give you a heads up on some very important research that we are releasing tomorrow…

"WSWA is releasing a research survey conducted by TRU (Teenage Research Unlimited) confirming that millions of teenagers have ordered alcohol online, or have a friend who has ordered online."

Of course what the survey does not include is the most important piece of data if you are really interested in the alcohol purchasing habits of teens: how they get their alcohol. No question along the lines of "where do you most often get alcohol?" is included in the survey.

The California Wine Institute noticed this little omission, as I did, and had this to say in a statement they released today:

"Wine Institute questions whether this WSWA survey is motivated by concern
over underage access or is another misguided attempt to protect their
distribution stronghold following a major defeat in the Supreme Court on May
16, 2005.
  Any legitimate survey of the issue would also include a review of
underage purchases at retail establishments and consider the important role
that parents must play in the home where alcohol is most easily procured. Wine
Institute believes WSWA should channel its resources into such efforts instead
of financing surveys and slick publicity campaigns."

The press release issued by WSWA led with this sentence:

"Millions of minors either buy alcohol online with ease or know an underage friend who does, according to a survey released today by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America."

I’m not sure what the real world significance is of "know(ing) an underage friend" who has bought alcohol on line. However, I do know what the significance is of it being in the first sentence of the WSWA press release. They felt they needed to bump up the apparent number of teens buying on line because the actual figures in the survey, just over 500,000, doesn’t exactly an epidemic make. If you read quickly through the press release you get the impression it really is "millions" buying on line. But their own survey does not suggest this."

However, the press release headline the WSWA used to sell this "survey" is extraordinarily deceptive and actually contradicts what their survey supposedly uncovers. The headline to the press release reads:

Millions of Kids Buy Internet Alcohol, Landmark Survey Reveals

"Millions" implies at least 2 million. Yet their survey uncovered at most 550,000 minors buying alcohol over the Internet. The really interesting question is why WSWA thought they needed to mislead in the headline. The reason surely is that the results of the survey are underwelming. Consider the headline on the main story being published on the Internet concerning this "news":


Not exactly what Ms. Juanita Duggan had hoped for when she released the information to the media.

Duggan and the other wine wholesaler representatives across the country who have tried to sell the menacing story of teens buying wine online have practically been laughed out of the media as the complications of purchasing wine on-line were explained to the media:

1. When teens want booze, they want it now, not in a week when UPS or FED EX delivers it

2. Teens don’t buy wine.

3. They must have a credit card

4. They must make it through the various age verification services used to prevent underage purchasing

5. They must be home at the time of delivery of the wine if they are trying to do it under the parent’s radar

6. They must sign for the wine and convince the drivers they over 21.

I have to question the reasons behind the commissioning of this survey. The battle over whether or not states should allow direct shipment of wine to consumers from out of state is practically over. States have been on a roll allowing such transactions even in the face of a very expensive effort by WSWA to use the "minor card" in their lobbying of state legislators. It all seems a bit desperate. A fourth quarter Hail Mary.

Right now the wholesalers are most worried about various states opening their borders to out-of-state wineries and brewers who want to sell direct not to consumers but to retailers and restaurateurs. If they are going to go to the wall to prevent something that can truly hurt their business, this is what they should focus on. And even this battle is likely to be lost as technology, ingenuity and market forces overcome the Prohibition Era attitude that so many wine and beer wholesalers continue to posses.

3 Responses

  1. Lenn - August 11, 2006

    These guys are an absolute joke.
    All of your points are right on Tom…even if they are frustrating for a part-time wine writer who constantly has to drive to the FedEx or UPS depot to pick up and sign for wine samples.

  2. Rob Cole - August 11, 2006

    As for the “knowing a teen” who has purchased wine online to bump up their numbers, I would imagine they could have said “Almost every teen in the nation knows another who has bought wine online.”
    If there’s one popular kid at a given high school who does this, then almost every kid at that school will know about it. I went to a high school with 1500 students. If one of the popular kids ahd been able to do this way back then, then you have an extra 1500 to add into your totals.
    These people are ridiculous, and I think the only way to confront them is the way you did in your other post saying that Wholesalers are responsible for providing alcohol to 98% of teens.

  3. tom merle - August 11, 2006

    I’ve never quite figured out how such an arch critic of direct shipping–Juanita, Juanita–can sit on the Advisory Committee of a major fulfillment company. And conversely, why does the shipping company, New Vine Logistics, have an Advisory Committee with a member who opposes their raison d’etre. If it demonstrates that there is under the radar shipping and compliant shipping, that subtle distinction is conspicuous by its absence from the WSWA press release.

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