“There is a whole generation of people working in hospitality who grew up through Covid and don’t have that ‘pub or going out culture’…We cannot continue to assume knowledge that just isn’t there.” That’s how Bob Davidson puts into context the work that Veraison, the wine training arm of Berkmann Wine Cellars, is doing to help connect with the new and next generation of hospitality staff that the on-trade is going to rely on to make the most of the wine category in restaurants, bars, pubs and hotels. Here Jonathan Caswell talks to Davidson about the work it is doing and what impact it hopes to make.
Drinking habits are changing fast among younger generations and wine as a category is particularly affected, with many younger people citing several barriers to entry. High among those concerns is a lack of understanding about wine, and, in turn, a reluctance to pay what is then considered a premium price compared to other drinks options. Wine training experts, Veraison, has a plan to help reverse the trend.
It’s 40 years since Robert Cialdini published his seminal work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. The book, which has sold more than seven million copies, explores factors that affect the decisions that people make, particularly in relation to purchasing and sales.
The application of Cialdini’s six principles – reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity – is credited with helping to boost the fortunes of countless organisations. It has also led him to work with some of the biggest names in the world – the likes of Google and Microsoft, KPMG and Coca Cola, even President Barack Obama.
Eight years ago he added a seventh principle, ‘unity’, which refers to a shared identity of which both the influencer and influencee are part. In other words, the more we perceive people are part of ‘us’ or the same ‘in group’, the more likely we are to be influenced by them.
Applying this type of psychology is the new weapon in the armoury of Veraison, the wine training arm of Berkmann Wine Cellars, 60 years old this year and the largest family-owned and family-run wine importer in the UK. It is being used to create the next generation of wine sellers and drinkers and for the wine industry this appears to be ‘the fierce urgency of now’.
While the cost of living, competition from alternative cheaper drinks and unpredictable weather are seriously affecting wine consumption, the impact of Covid-19 on global wine markets’ revenue is still being profoundly felt. Wine consumption in the on-trade has also dropped by 26% in volume when compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to CGA On-Premise Data Sept 2022-23. Figures from IWSR show that the greatest contraction is at the entry-level, with evidence of a trend to premiumisation.
Bob Davidson, Veraison’s wine training manager, believes Covid’s impact actually runs deeper than that: “There is a whole generation of people working in hospitality who grew up through Covid and don’t have that ‘pub or going out culture’, nor are they interested in learning about food and wine in the same way that people did a decade ago”, he says. “There are people who don’t even know that wine is made from grapes! We cannot continue to assume knowledge that just isn’t there.”
Berkmann’s response has, over the last year, been to overhaul its proprietary training programme designed to revitalise wine culture in the on-trade hospitality sector. They have engaged behavioural scientist Dr Rachael Skews of Cognus Coaching to help design their new courses and Veraison is now offering an innovative approach to training which taps into the most modern and effective training techniques. It is particularly curated for the Gen Z age group (born between 1997 and 2012) which is a major segment of the UK hospitality workforce.
It’s not so much a relaunch as a reimagining of something they have been doing successfully since 2016 for Berkmann’s on-trade customers. In 12 months to the end of this financial year, Davidson and senior wine educator, Silvia Pampaloni will have hosted some 260 bespoke sessions for around 2,000 hospitality staff, bringing the total to more than 1,000 sessions with 9,000 participants. That equates to more than 13,000 hours of training from these two passionate advocates.
Davidson, a former fundraising manager at The Drinks Trust and an organiser of the London Wine Fair and Imbibe Live began his wine career at Majestic shorty after university, 17 years ago. Pampaloni, a former wine journalist moved to London in 2013 to work as a wine specialist at Bedales Wines before setting up boutique wine tasting and education service, Divino in Vino.
Their ambition is to train up to 20,000 drinks professionals this coming year alone across Berkmann’s 3,000-strong client base. To help this two-strong team, Veraison is now available through generationally appropriate learning channels with the introduction of a state-of-the-art e-learning platform, and a brand-new app, enabling drinks staff to learn on the go.
Content is delivered in bite-sized chunks and features elements of gamification which acknowledges that this younger, digital-first audience wants to learn and upskill in ways and at times that suit their busy lifestyles.
In addition, the e-learning platform will constantly evolve with additional content on grape varieties, regions and more, along with weekly quizzes, competitions and physical prizes for participants.
Davidson explains: “We’re the first to look at it from a behavioural science point of view – how can we talk to people and get them to engage and talk about wine to build empathy with customers? A lot of what we do in this course is to encourage people to display ‘unity’ with their customers, so they can be seen as part of the same ‘in group’. It means that if they care about the subject and want to learn, even if they don’t drink alcohol, they can still offer great service and care about other people’s experiences.”
While a by-product might be unearthing new sommelier talent or turning someone into an oenophile, the firm focus is on grassroots hospitality and sales. Veraison’s three courses reflect the wine education journey, from the entry-level course, Roots, aimed at those who have never had any formal wine training before; through Shoots, a module dedicated to wine service, food and wine pairing and key upselling techniques; and finally to the advanced level, Fruits, which provides a deeper understanding of wine varieties and regions with an in-depth look at how to maximise sales and the guest experience.
Dr Skews, who was formerly course director of the MSc in Occupational Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, believes that Veraison’s is a pioneering approach: “By including exercises for developing empathy with customers, co-creating wine vocabulary and discussing participants’ feelings, we have designed a powerful training programme that will give hospitality staff the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to succeed.”
“This is about instilling that passion for that service and we want to try and build a wine community and make sure people see this as a career and not just a ‘stop gap’ job,” adds Davidson. “If they can see that there is a career involved, that there is something to learn from it, and they can engage with it emotionally first, then hopefully everything else can follow.
“On the one hand it’s about supporting our on-trade partners and on the other it’s future proofing the industry, to make sure that there is a generation of people who in 10 years from now will want their [wine] qualifications. What we are really trying to do is find, nurture and retain that talent which is essential to the future of our industry and hospitality.”
We can all raise a glass to that.
- To find out more about Veraison and the work it does go to its website here.