Financial Times Deutschland takes up the story

Politiken newspaper in Denmark recently ran a story on Antipodes Premium Wines and the challenges we are facing from KF and Posten. Now The Financial Times Deutschland has run their own story critical of the anti-alcohol lobby.  The story is in German.

http://www.ftd.de/lifestyle/outofoffice/:Out-of-Office-Kleiner-Rauschangriff-auf-Schweden/502832.html

 

Cheers

Mark 

How much can a koala bear?

I am deafened by the silence of Swedish consumers reaction to Systembolaget’s plan for new releases of wines in 2010 . Faced with criticism that the newly released wines sold out too quickly and disappointed customers the monopoly was faced with two choices:

a) new releases are obviously popular so more of each should be ordered (ie. consumers want variety)

or

b) reduce the number of new releases and order more of those (ie. consumers want variety but we will give them quantity)

The monopoly said their employees could not cope with too many releases (cue violins…) so putting the interests of their consumers behind those of the employees, option B won out.

To quote Australian comedian Austentaysious “How much can a koala bear?”.

Swedish bears obviously can deal with a lot of pushing around by the monopoly. The rough end of the stick is that small producers who used these new launches as a way to get their products into Sweden could supply smaller quantities without disrupting their export market strategy. By increasing the volume required quailty smaller producers will not want to put all their eggs in one basket and be squeezed out and more sales opportunities will be given to the big producers – of which we do not need more of here anyway.

Alcohol importers, already struggling and closing down due to the monopoly’s resistance to increase prices to offset the weak Kronor will now have to fight over fewer product listings.

Where do wine consumers fit into this you may well ask? Obviously they were not a consideration in making this decision.

We now have over 50.000 members in our wine clubs, obviously consumers want choice and not just of where they buy their wine but what they buy and are tired of the bland monopoly diet of bag in box (60% of the wine sold by Systemet) and mass produced wines that have the character and complexity of a bottle of Coke.

cheers

Mark

Victim of success – Australian wine exports

If floods, bush fires, drought, over production and collapsing international demand for wine was not enough to deal with, respected Master of Wine and wine journalist Jancis Robinson (www.jancisrobinson.com) forecasts the next storm on the horizon for the Australian industry.  The large producers (Constellation Brands, Fosters and the makers of Yellow Tail wines) have slashed prices in the hard fight for market share in the important US and UK markets and as a result damaged the reputation of good value Aussie wine.

Jancis’ revelation is no wake up call for the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation (AWBC), they have been working hard counter acting the disasterous price cutting Hardy’s implemented several years ago in the UK and Yellow Tail’s drive to the bottom of the US market.  Winemakers visiting Sweden have for several years been warning of the dangers of commoditising wine and selling wholly based upon price.

Large French wine producers must be laughing at their antipodean rivals as they suffer from their own success/excess – which just half a decade ago saw Australian wines replace France as the best selling wines in the UK. Lessons could easily have been learned from the cause of the European wine lakes!

The reason wine excites the interest of many millions of people around the world is because it is not Coca Cola. There is no secret formula hidden in a bank vault. The secret to making a good wine is the combination of factors that the French call terroir and I call the combination of the natural environment, weather and viticulturalist and winemaker’s skills.  I have been to wineries where there are more laboratory workers blending wines to exact colour, acidity and sugar specifictions than winemakers tasting and blending the wine. Naturally we don’t buy from these producers!

Australia has been successful in combining modern scientific winemaking skills to the high quality grapes many regions can produce with the result being wines of character and personality that taste Australian. Quality wine takes time to produce, costs money for the grapes, oak barrels and modern hygienic winery equipment and can not be sold for $2. If wine costs as much, or less than a bottle of Coke then these producers should not be surprised at the lack of brand loyalty their products engender.

Fortunately the large companies who drove Australia’s reputation into the dredges are suffering more than many of the quality smaller producers who have created strong relationships with wine importers around the world who know how to foster, no pun intended, a quality brand.

As a marketing guru once said to me, if you only sell on price, there is only one way to go and it is always a race to the bottom. Quality wine should be good value, great quality, interesting and create a memorable drinking experience. As the Mastercard people say, this is priceless!

Cheers for Easter, enjoy the sun, Sauvignon Blanc and grilling!

Mark

Finding New Ways

As regular readers of Vinfrihet will know, the story of how wine is delivered to our members is worthy of a Chinese Communist era soap opera: Capitalist Roadsters vs Little Redbook carrying Party Members. The first two scenes of the drama involved the bullies at KF (Konsum, Coop, Mataffaren) breaking their contract to deliver our wine and then Posten dismissing our business as too small to bother with. I am glad the audience is still watching because just as you hope for in any good movie, the good guys are making a come back!

Today we announced a national contract with Bring Express whose slogan, Finding New Ways, could easily be the sub text for our wine club business. From March 26 all orders placed with our wine clubs will be home delivered – EVERYWHERE IN SWEDEN! Bring’s impressive service will give our wine club members the best home delivery service in the country for the same low price we currentlyoffer of only 190kr a case of wine (150kr for the second and all subsequent cases of wine shipped free so the maximum anyone pays is 340kr for delivery). If you live in the archipelago outside of Stockholm or Göteborg there is an additional fee.

Every customer ordering on our wine club sites has their social security number verified to check that they are over 20 and Bring Express’ handsomely dressed in green drivers check the ID of all people receiving the wine and have them sign for it. This is the best and only 100% age checking for alcohol sales in Sweden. Bring will also call up every customer to book a delivery time up to 21:00 and call 30 minutes before arrival so most members will be able to leave for home when they get the call and the smart green van arrives with the much awaited package.

That is what we call service!

 The whole experience of negotiating with Bring Express and the implementation of the logistics when compared to our 12 month ordeal with Posten is like the difference between Obama and Mao. One gives you hope for the future the other makes you regret the past!

While our members enjoy the benefits of Bring’s national service and our great wine, we await the eventual criticism from Systembolaget (bla bla bla against community health…) and the anti alcohol lobby (bla bla bla against community health….) who were the shadow puppet masters in the first two scenes of this Chinese soap opera. As long as Systembolaget sells spirits, beer and 60% of its wine sold is bag in box products with use by dates 11 months from filling, people in glass pagodas should not throw stones!

Thank you Tobias, Jonas, Stefan, Charlotte and the whole Bring team. We know you will have the courage to stand up to the puppet masters and live up to fulfilling your slogan to the benefit of Swedish consumers of quality wine!

Cheers to Bring!

Mark

Challenging times

Baru is the name of a range of wines we recently introduced from Sicilly. One red, Nero d’Avola, the indigenous grape which is related to the scrumptuous grenache grape we associate strongly with Spain and two indigenous white wines.  James visited Sicilly last summer and came back determined to find some great value wines from this upcoming wine region. Baru offered the quality and value we hoped plus an extra ingredient – it challenged our members. Nero d’Avola is not shiraz, not cabernet sauvignon, not merlot, not pinot noir or even carignan that often sneaks into popular wines from southern France.

The opening of these wines did not quite set off Mt. Etna in thousands of home across our long country, but it did cause more than a ripple across the Straits of Messina. Our members on Australian Wine Club rate all the wines, without censorship and we read every one of the hundreds of ratings. These Baru wines attracted a lot of interest and emails. Many of you loved the wines, it sold out quickly, but an unusually high number told us you didn’t like it. Jonas Palmberg from Trelleborg http://www.australianwineclub.se/wine_details.php?wine_id=520 gave the wine 11/20, one of the lowest scores we have ever had for a wine. Thank you Jonas for being honest and telling us what you thought of the wine. Ann Wikström from Skövde gave it 20/20, which may be overly generous and there were numerous ratings of inbetween scores. But it shows that James and Jimmy acheived their objective – they challenged your senses, made you try something new that maybe you had not tried before and you can either add or delete these fine Sicillian wines to your list of favourites. At the very least you can add it to your list of wine grapes tried!

We love getting ratings for our wines and as we offer a 100% satisfaction money back guarantee we need to know what our members think about the wines so we can maintain our high quality and still challenge you every now and then!

Challenging times hit Premium Wines Sweden, one of the 3 wine import companies owned by Altia, the Finnish alcohol group. Premium Wines will be closed done and their products absorbed into the other two Altia companies with the loss of 15 jobs. The strength of the Euro and no doubt Systembolaget’s insistence that alcohol importers subsidise Swedish alcohol consumers played a part in this decision. Premium Wines were the first wine importers to welcome Antipodes Premium Wines into their industry in 2004. We got a letter from their lawyers telling us we could not use the name Antipodes Premium Wines as it infringed on their name. We told them in a very Australian way to sod off and eventually made friends when they changed senior management and were acquired by Altia. To our friends there we wish you good luck and hope that you find new and challenging jobs in the near future. Hopefully the stupidity that importers should bear the brunt of the strong Euro while all other consumer goods companies can in some way pass on part of the price increase it to the retailers and customers will change before more jobs are lost in the industry. While Systembolaget’s sales keep rising during these challenging times it is immoral that they should cause more lost jobs to be added to the pile. Their owners have to pick up the tab in the end anyway!

Note: we do not sell any wine to Systembolaget so this problem does not impact us. As a currency moves against the Kronor we quickly move our purchasing to wine producing countries with more favourable currencies so we can always offer the same great value wines to our members.

cheers

Mark

Ripples from the sea change

A powerful friend in Stockholm quietly let me in on a secret:  there are 20 people who make all the big decisions in Sweden and pull all the puppet strings. A various stages of our business we have felt the slap of the puppet’s hand and the kick of its wooden leg in the hope of stopping wine lovers from having legal access to quality wine. But for every cold wooden kick and slap we get 1000 warm handshakes and hugs from our growing army of members that is now well over 45.000 strong. We don’t feel so lonely in our battle against the puppets of KF and Posten.

This has already been an eventful month (besides it being the birth month of our children).

  1. We completely stopped selling via Systembolaget and closed our Stockholm warehouse: now we control the whole service experience
  2. We re-launched Malmö Aviation Wine Club www.malmoaviationwineclub.se with direct delivery to an overwhelming response from this great airline’s frequent flyer members. Well done Mia-Li, you have done a great job launching this new site.
  3. Australian Wine Club continues to grow like our glasshouse tomato bushes in the summer. March will be our best sales month ever thanks to all our members’ support.
  4. Vinfynda will soon be resurected from the dead and incorporated in Australian Wine Club where great value discounted wine can be found with home delivery.
  5. I met some incredibly intelligent and articulate people who understand and support what we are doing. The fact that organisations like Timbro and magazines like Neo exist in Sweden gives us hope that free markets and entrepreneurs have a future here.
  6. The phones of our wine advisors, under the management of the wonderfully patient and encouraging Maria, are ringing hot and members are really appreciating the service and new way to order wine. I was amused to see that Systembolaget has taken expensive full page newspaper advertisements to let us know that they have copied our wine advisor idea. But we don’t make you feel guilty about buying wine when you call us! When will the government stop monopolies from advertising to support their own monopoly – surely this is a political matter.
  7. The spring range of wines has just been finalised and includes our first South American wines (bring on the Argentinian Malbec), great value Chianti and Rioja and more Keith Tulloch wines. We shopped up the entire remaining supply of the all-time-member’s favourite wines, Fire Block Shiraz and Grenach. That, along with some very exciting new wines from New Zealand and Australia will make the spring sunny regardless of the weather!
  8. James and Jimmy are soon off to Pro Wein, the huge international wine fair in Germany, where we hope to find more pearls for the summer and autumn. Any requests?
  9. To all our industry colleagues who have recently lost their jobs due to Systembolaget’s refusal to increase wine prices due to the severe slump in the € to the SEK, we hope you get back on your feet soon. Can someone explain to me why a monopoly that is supposed to discourage alcohol consumption insists on making its suppliers subsidise alcohol consumers? If it were truly following its remit it would see this as an opportunity to increase prices and reduce sales. However, when all other products purchased from Europe and the US are rising in price, we can thank the monopoly for keeping prices artificially low at the cost of lost jobs in the alcohol importing industry. I suggest that SORAD conduct a study to calculate how many extra sick days will be taken due to the artificially low price of alcohol. The Russian government subsidises vodka, the Swedish State subsidises all alcohol!
  10. Watch out for next week’s news, it is sure to bring a smile to your face!

Cheers everyone

Mark

A sea change is coming

March starts with our daughter’s birthday and ends with our son’s and somewhere in between there are the birthday parties and time for reflection on the job my wife and I are doing as parents. Time to reflect is not usually scheduled in Outlook: 10:00 – 11: 00 Monday reflect, is not a common entry in my calendar. But with all that has been going on in the world lately intraspection, looking into ourself and our own life, is more important than reflecting on what has been when the newspapers make such depressing daily reading.

What does this have to do with wine? Everything eventually comes back to the nectar of the gods! Our wine club business gives us a good insight into the pulse of society today and despite what we read it is happy and content. With so many thousands of members buying our wine, writing to us, calling us and specially attending the numerous events we hold each month we sense a change a happenin! This last weekend in Göteborg’s Mat & Passion fair the attendance was 3x last years as the friendly people at the front door of Sweden sought out more of the finer things in life. Our sommeliers who attended the event were overwhelmed by the interest in Australian Wine Club and our service from thousands of attendees. Our own events around the country and sale of wine through our wine clubs which continues to grow month on month are showing a similar sea change – quality wine and food is not a luxury anymore, it is an important part of our identity and lifestyle. As an Australian-born Swede I find this encouraging and something I hope that the government authorities are tuned into – drinking habits are changing, so they should foster the good and hopefully the recently suggested changes to the Swedish alcohol laws will not dampen this positive trend.

Our wine club members are telling us in different ways that quality wine is important to them. More of our subscribers contact us to increase the frequency or value of their order than to cancel it (thankfully a very small number, but members do move abroad and passaway, sadly). There are now more than 100 member ratings of our wines on the Australian Wine Club website which shows that you who drink the wine are thinking about it, assessing it and want to share your thoughts on it. Fine Wine Society (www.finewinesociety.se) has been a huge success for members who know that by spending a little more you get a lot more wine in the bottle.

Our members share the opinion that it should be easy and fun to order and buy quality wine and more time should be spent drinking it than standing in line to buy it. Therefore, we recently opened a Wine Advisory centre where wine club members can talk to our team of trained wine advisors to discuss their wine preferences and take their orders. If your mobile phone is more accessible than your computer then SMS 72500 wine and your name we will even call you right back.  Here is a photo of a few of the wine advisors during a recent tasting and education class in our office.

wine-advisors1

or email vinradgivare@australianwineclub.se and someone will call you right back. We will soon open up the telephone lines so members can call in directly but given the demand on the wine advisors so far we are trying to hire and train more so we can maintain a high level of service and not keep you waiting to answer the call.

The sea change is coming to Sweden and we are proud to help our members enjoy these good things in life!

cheers

Mark