Earlier this month, Villa Sandi international export director Flavio Geretto was asked to take part in a panel on “Pouring to Profitability” in the age of the pandemic at the Restaurants Canada virtual trade show.
Founded in 1944, Restaurants Canada is a national, not-for-profit association representing Canada’s foodservice industry.
Like Flavio, the other panelists were wine industry business leaders. They included Scott Walton and Jay Wright, CEOs at leading Canadian wine importers, and David Rudman, Executive Director of the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust for the Americas, who also served as the moderator.
Flavio was asked to give his perspective on industry trends in the time since the pandemic began. Given Villa Sandi’s robust presence in the Canadian market, the moderator was eager to hear Flavio’s insights and to learn about his experiences as the winery has pivoted to the new normal of wine sales across the globe.
“I’m very lucky,” said Flavio, “because I have a great team working with me and this was an opportunity to learn how we could impact sales even without being able to travel to Canada. 30 percent of our business [in the Canadian market] was in restaurants. We were fortunate to already have three wines in the Canadian monopoly but we had to change our strategy as sales shifted to retail. We needed to find a solution. Not just in Canada but everywhere in the world. What we learned was that if you worked hard enough, you could capitalize on this new model.”
“One of the most important elements,” he continued, “was our Villa Sandi blog. That allowed us to stay in touch with our customers by posting videos and other educational materials that they could use. Another huge element was that we created a virtual tour and tasting program for the winery. We set up a wi-fi zone in the vineyards and in the cellar and this allowed to take our partners on ‘tours’ of the winery as they tasted the wines. It turned out to be a great way to stay connected to our customers when we couldn’t see them in person.”
“We also realized that consumers have become more receptive to wine education,” he added. “Because they are home, they have more time to learn about wines and they want to drink higher quality wines. So our focus on virtual events and virtual education has really been useful.”
Flavio’s points aligned in many ways with what the other panelists had to say.
Scott Walton talked about how sales to restaurants have dropped by 70 percent over the last 12 months. But retail has far exceeded expectations as people are drinking more at home and — most importantly — spending more money on higher quality wines, he said.
Jay Wright discussed his company’s “dinner incentive” for employees. Every month, he said, he paid for each of his staff members to dine out at their favorite restaurant and — perhaps most importantly — order a bottle of wine. It was a way, he explained, to help restaurants and the wine trade in general while they had an opportunity to take time off with a significant other for a special meal.
“Local focus” is another trend that Flavio mentioned in his remarks. People obviously can’t travel, he noted in conclusion, “and so they want to experience the same wines that the locals are drinking. They don’t just want any Pinot Grigio. They want the Pinot Grigio that Italians drink. And so this has been another one of our strategies: To focus on the local character of our products. And they also want to recreate their Italian experience at home. This trend has had a huge impact as people have become more interested not only in local products but the way local products are served, the local foods and traditions of pairing wine with foods and dishes.”
Sustainability, he said, is another trend that has taken shape in the time of the pandemic.
“If you can make a wine in a way that is respectful of the environment,” he told viewers, “people are going to be even happier to drink your wine. So that’s been another focus in our marketing strategy: Sustainability in the vineyards and in the cellar.”