Whisper it gently but face-to-face international trading is back if the reaction to last week’s Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris is anything to go by. After weeks of speculation the show went ahead as planned and attracted 25,739 visitors, of which 28% came from outside France, from 109 visiting countries. What’s more it was the key wine and spirits buyers who were willing to get back to business making up 77% of visitors who had the chance to visit the 2,864 exhibitors taking part. Richard Siddle reports back on the show and gives his assessment of the first major international wine and spirits fair in two years.
Paris proved the perfect back drop to shake off the cobwebs and get back to the long days and nights of an international trade fair.
Two weeks before Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris opened its doors, its organisers were either being praised by exhibitors and visitors, alike, for being “brave” or “strong” in keeping the show open, despite still soaring Omicron Covid cases in France, or being accused of being “highly reckless” and “dangerous” in insisting the event must go on.
Now a week after the exhibition has finished, the first to be held in Europe since the last Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris in February 2020, everyone who went will have come away with the satisfaction that face-to-face trade fairs are back to pretty much normal – give or take face masks, Covid tests, and full vaccination certificates.
Rodolphe Laymeyse, chief executive of Vinexposium that runs the combined event, admits he had more than a few sleepless nights leading up to the show and that there were times when he did question the rationale in going ahead – particularly when the Omnicron outbreak resulted 60,000 covid cases a day in January. “It has been an emotional rollercoaster over the last eight weeks,” he told The Buyer.
But he also knew just how important it was for the wine and spirits industries as a whole that the event happened as planned and we could all get back to doing business face-to-face. That’s what drove him and his team forward and sustained them through their darkest moments, he says. Fortune, does indeed, flavour the brave.
The fact the event attracted such a high level of visitor showed how important it was for the trade that it did take place. As well as the high percentage of buyers (77%), there was also 51% who worked for an importer, wholesaler or distributor, 32% made up wine merchants and 17% from the hospitality industry.
The UK was the second highest represented country, behind Belgium, followed by Italy, the Netherlands and the United States. Between them visiting buyers took part in some 3,068 pre-arranged meetings with relevant producers.
The fact Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris was opened by the French minister for agriculture and cldosed by the French minister for trade shows just how important it was for the French government that the event went ahead. Wine and spirits is, after all, the second biggest export contributor to the French economy after aeronautics.
Lameyse admits to being in close contact with senior government figures who were able to give him the reassurances he needed to keep the exhibition on course. The event was also a precursor for the crucial International Agricultural Show that runs in Paris between February 26 to March 6 which attracts over 70,000 people and is crucial for the Macron government with the forthcoming French elections coming up. Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris, though, was the first international trade show in Paris since the pandemic started and Lameyse knew he could not afford to mess it up. Or words to that effect.
Political support, however, did little to smooth that “emotional rollercoaster” that Rodolphe Lameyse and his team had to go through and it was only 10 days before its launch that things really started to fall into place, he stresses. That’s when the majority of the visitor registrations came through and he knew it had made the “right decision” to go ahead. But even then entrance to the show had to be done under the strictest of conditions, with no access to anyone who did not have an up to date vaccination pass, which when the domestic rules changed just as the show opened meant some people had to be refused entry.
Not that you would have noticed any of the behind the scenes agonies as a visitor. Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris have come a long way in a short period of time, and there is clearly a momentum building about a show that might predominantly be about France, but has a growing serious international element to it as well. The visitor figures are also going in the right direction – with 28,000 visitors in 2022 compared to 26,000 in 2020 – and there was a sense in the four main halls was that this was a show on the up and that it will only get bigger and more significant in the coming years.
It won’t be threatening the ProWein juggernaut any time soon, but it is already nibbling away at its ankles and there will be plenty of buyers who will prefer to do their business and their buying in Paris in February than wait for Dusseldforf in the spring, or, this year, the early summer. Lameyse says there is a “respectful competition” between the two and that it makes sense for the industry as a whole that they both do well.
Lameyse says the figures don’t tell the full story and the 15% increase in exhibitors attending the show is in stark contrast to the 15% decline that international trade shows across all sectors have faced.
The key thing Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris has going for it is time and space. With only four halls there is plenty of time to get between meetings and a far more relaxed atmosphere with buyers and producers able to take their time and have lengthier discussions and tastings. It’s also far healthier for the trade as a whole to have two big continental shows to choose from.
Where Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris certainly has the edge on its German counterparts is it has the space to breathe and give room to what is a very well organised and curated content and masterclass programme. Yes, ProWein has its fair share of specialist tastings, masterclasses and seminars, but finding the time to go, or even knowing where they are taking place, is a big issue.
The stand out content area in Paris was its Wine Talks which featured a series of high level talks and debates on key issues such as: the global supply chain; climate change; changes to viticulture; duty changes in the UK; through to packaging and the use of heavy glass bottles. The chance to spend a good hour getting to the heart of these important topics and not tried to be shoe horned into a rushed 30 or 40 minute session that is so often the case. (The Buyer will be featuring some of these sessions in other articles.)
Winners and losers
So what did we learn in Paris? It’s quite clear the wine industry is at another one of its crossroads and when the dust finally settles after Covid-19, a new wine trading world will emerge. Yes, the big classic wine regions will continue to dominate and the Old and New World splits will continue to look to divide and conquer, but many fingers have been burnt over the last two years. Importers, suppliers and their on and off-trade customers have all had to work far harder to get the wines they need through their doors. Relationships have been stretched and many are frayed, if not broken.
It means those with the means and the skills to keep on top of their game throughout the pandemic are better placed than ever, but they are few and far between. Most wine businesses have fallen through one crack or another and are not the same well functioning beasts that they were pre-March 2020.
Some have stepped up and taken on the digital opportunity with both hands, but few have have made the real investments needed to bring in dynamic new digital skills from outside the sector capable of taking their business to another level completely. Papering up IT cracks, and making themselves digitally ship shape is one thing, but how many can hand on heart say they are now a digital first company and can really mean it?
Producers are becoming far more demanding, fickle, and choosy with who they work with. The pressures they have faced over the last two years has seen them take big, brave decisions to switch markets and open up new business channels that give them the margins they need to grow. They are far less willing to stick with their once tried and trusted supplier if they feel there is a lot more value to be had elsewhere.
The Paris show was full of producers who had switched distributors during lockdown, and will, no doubt, do so again if their new partners are not able to deliver what they now need. Which means far greater transparency about what is selling and to whom and what direct impact that producer can have on how their wines are being sold and marketed.
Importers have long held the upper hand with their relationships with their producers, but not any more. Both the international and individual domestic wine markets have opened up like never before during Covid. People went online to buy wine in huge numbers and there are now more profitable routes to market for producers to take which is making them question each of the distributors they work with in their core markets.
If you went to Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris and did not take the time to seek out and spend time in the dedicated Be Spirits section then you missed out. Big time. For that is where the real dynamism, passion and creativity of the show was to be seen.
Not necessarily in terms of new styles of spirits on display, but more in the passion in which they were being displayed. It featured certainly the biggest back bar I have seen made up of bartender teams from some of Paris’s most prestigious and acclaimed cocktail venues.
Here you could pick from a selection of cocktails the different bartender teams had devised to best showcase how one of the spirits brands on the main trading floor could be enjoyed. A really innovating and inspiring idea as it meant you – as the buyer – could sit quietly and enjoy seeing the particular spirit was being used by bartenders in a bar setting. If you wanted to know more about it, the bartenders could describe in their own words what it is they liked about the particular rum, gin, whisky, vodka, tequila or whatever. For the brands it meant they bartenders were doing the sales pitch for them through their natural passion and enthusiasm.
The bartenders also had a go at creating wine-based cocktails, with wines supplied by Anivid de France, and such was the success of a Chardonnay style cocktail, dubbed Chardo Mule, at the show that it is now going to be developed as a standalone international brand.
Lameyse says he is particularly pleased to see how quickly the Be Spirits part of the show has taken off, with 2022 some 50% bigger in size than the inaugural show in 2020. He says he will see how things go for next year, but envisages it could easily grow to being in a hall of its own either in 2022 or 2023, and, who knows, a show in its own right, potentially, in due course.
Then there is Paris
The most obvious USP about the show is that it is in Paris. Not only is it a major global city with excellent international transport links – and a quick hop on the Eurostar from central London, but it is all you would want working in the drinks industry. The perfect host city in which to propose, enjoy local restaurants, with excellent cuisine, wine, and iconic restaurants and bars to enjoy.
It’s also the political and economic heart of France and at at time when the wine and spirits industry needs all the help it can get, it felt fitting this was an international trade show that clearly had the full backing of the French government.
And if you work in drinks and can’t have a good time in Paris then you might want to think about another career.
- You can find out more about the 2022 show and what happened here.
- The 2023 Wine Paris & Vinexpo Paris will take place between February 13-15, 2023.