Paging Mr. Orwell

Georgeorwell Forgive me for being a deconstructionist so early in the day. But sometimes I can't help myself.

At the recent Wine & Spirit Wholesalers Association Annual Convention that organization's leader told the gathering of wholesalers the following:

“Within the industry it is no secret that we are the most vibrant,
innovative and consumer friendly – yet responsible and accountable
–system of distribution in the world. And now our voice is being heard."

First things first. Wolf was referring to the wholesale tier of the American system of alcohol distribution. This is the sector of the American alcohol distribution system that might otherwise be referred to as "The middlemen". They buy wine from suppliers, mark up the price, and resell it to retailers and restaurants. They used to be darned good brand builders. Today they are darned good truck drivers. They still build brands as long as the brand provides hundreds of thousands of cases.

The other thing to know in order to place Wolf's statement in context is that in nearly every state, wholesalers are not required to demonstrate their value. Rather, their existence between the suppliers and those who sell to consumers is actually mandated by law. Put another way, whether needed or not by the suppliers and retailers/restaurants, they must be paid. Pretty sweet, eh?

On to the deconstruction.

I had to look up the word "Vibrant". I'm almost positive the Mr. Wolf is using this definition: " vigorous; energetic; vital" to describe American wine wholesaling. I have to presume that he is referring to the vibrancy with which the wholesale tier is consolidating and becoming smaller and smaller in number while individual wholesalers are becoming bigger and bigger, controlling more and more of various markets. There is no question that the bigger wholesalers are both energetic and vigorous in the eating of their own.

"Innovation" is a term we most often use to describe the implementation of new ideas and new processes. Can it really be true that wine wholesalers are innovative? Have they designed and implemented a new way to make a left turn with a truck or a new way to back up into a receiving dock? These are the folks who resist innovation in wine distribution at every turn, insisting that the same processes and ideas that were institutionalized in the 1930s not be disturbed in any way. They opposed winery-to-consumer direct shipping. They opposed retailer-to-consumer direct shipping. They oppose self distribution wine by suppliers to retailers and restaurants. They oppose the idea multi-location retailers warehousing their wines in a central location. They oppose wine in grocery stores. These things are innovative. The WSWA opposes them. Maybe Mr. Wolf, when referring to "innovation", is referring to the installation of that little knob on to the steering wheel that allows turning the steering wheel to be done with less effort. I'm not sure.

"Consumer-Friendly" almost always means making the lives of consumers more convenient and giving them a more powerful position in the commercial process. However, I think that Mr. Wolf is suggesting that wholesalers bring to market a large array of products, giving consumers greater choice. And they do bring to market a large array of products. It's just that they oppose consumers having access to products they DON'T choose to bring to market. This anti-consumer disposition on the part of wholesalers wouldn't be such a bad thing if consumers had easy access to the products that wholesalers didn't want to bring to market. But they oppose that—in all their consumer friendliness. It should also be noted that wholesalers have ZERO contact with th consumer. They don't sell anything to consumers. That's the job of producers, retailers and restaurants. The motto of wholesalers, where consumers are  concerned, has always been: "If we don't distribute it, you don't need it." And yet, Mr. Wolf is able to claim that wine wholesalers are "the most consumer-friendly system of distribution in the world." Paging Mr. Orwell!

I recently read that "The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief". Does Craig Wolf really BELIEVE that wholesalers are vibrant, innovative and consumer friendly? Did the wholesalers in the room at the WSWA convention really believe this about themselves and their industry? If they do truly believe these things, can we expect the wholesalers to use more of their state-subsidized profits to insure that their brand of vibrancy, innovation and consumer friendliness continues to drag down consumers and the wine industry?

5 Responses

  1. AC - May 4, 2009

    could you lighten up your background? the dark against the black letters makes it kind of hard to read. IJS

  2. mydailywine - May 4, 2009

    Your points under ‘Innovation’ are truly the most galling aspect of wine wholesalers at the moment.
    Within the confines of the business model they have erected, it only makes economic sense for them to focus on the huge wineries and importers.
    They do not have the staff or infrastructure to brand build for small or medium wineries anymore.
    And yet, they oppose all new innovations, like direct to consumer or direct to trade programs, that would allow these small wineries to succeed in the marketplace.
    I always say to all of my wholesaler friends, ‘quit bitching and be part of the exciting changes happening in our industry’!

  3. Scott - May 5, 2009


  4. Gretchen - May 5, 2009

    Aren’t these the same people who said that small wineries are the marketplace “losers”?
    What is unfortunate is that this justifies the circurlar arguments of wine snobs that believe that good wine can only come from a select number of locations. The joke is on them, however, as there is good wine all around us.

  5. AC - May 5, 2009

    Thanks Tom, much brighter. Much better. Much obliged.

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