U.S. Drinks Conference 2008 An Outstanding Success

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U.S. Drinks Conference held in London, UK Oct. 14 was called a success. In its second year the event attracted delegates from 16 countries seeking information on how to export and market their spirit, wine and beer brands in the U.S. Thempact of the financial crisis on the Global drinks industry is discussed.

U.S. Drinks Conference 2008 speakers take questions from the audience. Pictured (l to r)

This was the second year that we've put on the event in London and this year we had a larger number of delegates from even more countries

The U.S. Drinks Conference 2008 was held in London last week and was categorized as an outstanding success by conference organizer Steve Raye of Brand Action Team.

"This was the second year that we've put on the event in London and this year we had a larger number of delegates from even more countries," Raye said. "The feedback we've gotten from attendees was overwhelmingly positive with frequent comments on the level of insight provided and comprehensiveness content."

The roster of speakers this year included some of the top executives in the American Drinks market including Rudy Ruiz, EVP of Southern Wine and Spirits, Vincent O'Brien, Senior Counsel at Nixon Peabody, John McDonnell, COO of Patrón Spirits, Bill Earle, President of the National Association of Beverage Importers, Roy Danis of AV Brands, and conference co-organizer John Beaudette, President of MHW Ltd. The subject matter included case histories and lessons learned by brands that have been successful in the U.S. and a wealth of data on the American market structure. Jeff Grindrod, Managing Partner at Brand Action Team, and Mike Ginley, President of Next Level presented results of "hot off the presses" research on consumer trends and preferences.

Several themes recurred through the conference including the impact of the global financial crisis on the Drinks industry, aligning distributor and supplier expectations, and the shift in marketing strategies toward more online and non-traditional spending.

Impact of Financial Crisis
"The economic crisis we're going through is certainly having an impact on the business, but the research results clearly demonstrated that the U.S. beverage alcohol industry is recession-resilient," commented Ginley of Next Level. Grindrod added that "we see continued growth in volume and revenue, albeit slowing, and a shift in consumption from on premise to off premise. This is very timely data since much of the survey was completed in the two weeks preceding the conference. Perhaps the most interesting thing we found is that for those folks going out to restaurants, the last thing they tend to cut out is the cocktail, wine or beer part of the meal," he noted.

Aligning Expectations
Ruiz of Southern Wine and Spirits gave some well received advice to suppliers looking to export their brands to the U.S. "The key to a successful relationship between supplier and distributor is in aligning expectations," he stressed. "When presenting new brands to Southern, expect to come in with a three year plan including a detailed one year operating plan with realistic expectations on case volume. It is more worthwhile to consider launching in smaller markets, proving your success with programming that demonstrates it's repeatable." According to Ruiz, the best demonstration of brand traction is when they see bars and retailers calling Southern and asking for the brand.

Evolution of Internet as Strategic Tool
Steve Raye of Brand Action Team brought home the importance of new online tools such as blogs and social media marketing for brand building. "It's a noble goal to get visitors to your brand website, but at the end of the day, it's more important to get your content out to where prospective customers already are spending their timeā€¦reading blogs, searching for recipes, reading comments on wines that other consumers have posted. Indeed, research shows that 65% of consumers read reviews online before purchasing a product."

The US Continues As The Worlds Best Beverage Alcohol Market For New Brands
As John Beaudette summarized at day's end, imports continue to drive growth across all beverage alcohol categories. "Considering the emergence of Eastern Europe, the Far East, and the rest of the world, we recognize that suppliers have many options in terms of investing behind new or existing brands. We hope we've clearly demonstrated that America is still the primary destination you should target".

Based on the success of this year's event, the organizers plan to expand the conference's reach to Asia next year.

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