No Secret Weapon to Conquer American Wine Market, Just Plain Sense
The more things change, the more they stay the same. This adage is relevant to the American wine market where, according to Simon Back, CEO of Backsberg Estate Cellars in Paarl, there is no silver bullet to success except old school, hands-on personal selling.
“As any South African wine producer knows, America is the one export market our industry needs cracking,” says Back. “Despite its status as the world’s number one wine consuming country, South African wines account for scarcely 3% of American wine sales.”
But, says Back, there is going to be no sudden shining moment of discovery where Americans suddenly rush to get hold of South African wine.
“The only way for a producer to get your wine onto the American retail and restaurant space is by investing in boot leather to walk the streets, make personal calls and introduce the product then and there,” says Back.
“America is arguably the most sophisticated consumer markets where the book on sales techniques and marketing was written and updated faster than anywhere else,” he says. “Add social media and the rest of the digital marketing arena to this and one tends to think that to sell in America you have to think next level.”
Not so, says Back, who has just returned from an extensive wine trade visit to six states including New York, New Jersey, California, Louisiana, Kansas, and Missouri.
“If you think the American wine trade is going to find out about South African wine by themselves, think again,” says Back. “Every wine store and restaurant is bombarded with product and information from wineries across the world – not to mention America’s own producers. The only way one can get into their sights is by personally calling on the trade, telling your story and introducing your wines.”
According to Back, producers cannot afford to think that generic marketing bodies or even brand distributors are going to get your foot in the door for you.
“If you look back at the history of America’s business culture, a lot of what makes the country such a global business hub is the dependence on personal relationships,” he says. “This can be seen in the general quality of service levels in all American industries. The empires of Apple, Nike, Microsoft, Coca Cola, Ford – to name a few – were founded on the principles of personal relationships between producer, retailer and customer. So how can any wine producer wishing to get into that market think it is going to work any differently for them?”
Back says that it is up to South African wine producers to create an awareness of the country’s wine legacy and its ability to make quality wines.
“I visited some of the top wine stores in each state and the knowledge about South African wine is very low – if present at all,” he says. “You can get all the articles in the press, develop thousands of likes and followers on your active social media profiles. But if you’re not there to engage with the retailer and the customers, you just are not going to make it to the sales floor by having your product listed.”
Back says that once you have made it through the door, the American wine buyers are generally favourable towards South African wine.
“They are surprised about this wine-making history on the Southern tip of Africa,” he says, “and love to hear stories – I am for example quite proficient of having to tell the story of Prof Perold and his creating Pinotage. But these are the kind of unique titbits Americans find engaging and sellable.”
And the wines themselves?
“South African product is found to be as good as we know it is,” says Back. “You yourself just have to make it through the door to get it tasted. There’s no other way if we want to make our American dream come true.”