Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Wines of South Africa tour heads West

I have now arrived along with Team South Africa in beautiful (and chilly)
San Francisco – the flight from Chicago is only 4 hours, but takes in 3
times zones and even this short distance leaves you with jet lag – after a
run along the Embarcadero, the waterfront of San Francisco I feel refreshed
and ready for another big day.
But first, lets chat about Chicago. I had some very detailed debates about
the efficacy of the South African presence in the USA with Norman Cilliers
and Ken Forrester who are co-conspirators on this unabashed assault on the
USA. A lot of thoughts came out along with a lot of things that I wanted to
share. A question was posed about how many of the people manning the stands
on the WOSA roadshow actually have authority to transact business and take
any kind of meaningful business decisions. A lot of comment has been
received from consumers, retailers and restaurateurs that they have liked a
lot of the wines and upon enquiring about the producers distributor, were
told that the wines are not available in the USA. Now we understand that
many of the producers are looking for importers and distributors and that
this is a ‘fishing’ expedition, it was seen as intensely negative from many.
Another thought was that there may be examples of people from South Africa
on the tour who were considering this as a mini vacation from the office and
really had very little likelihood of doing any business. I would encourage a
thorough evaluation of the process upon return to South Africa to see if
there has been any return at all from this trip across America. This is a
concern – does this apply to other WOSA road trips? It was suggested in the
same debate that if a ‘follow-up’ meeting was called for South Africa upon
return, how many of the tour participants would attend?
On the positive side, we had a very beneficial day in Chicago and saw a lot
of existing clients and customers as well as spent some valuable time with
our distributors who are doing a great job. Business was done, relationships
formed and strengthened and the Wines of South Africa made a very positive
Another debate was raised in Chicago. The question about the coordination of
South Africa’s marketing efforts was discussed and it was felt that we
should be seeking greater cooperation between South Africa’s marketing
agencies. A South African wine tour would be a perfect companion for a
tourism tour, a finance tour and perhaps even a Safari lodge tour of
America – we have invested heavily in this tour and it is a certainty that
we should be cross-pollinating our efforts to a larger extent. The financial
economies of scale alone scream for this type of cooperation. What if the
big South African investment conference that was in NYC at the same time as
the WOSA tour had been in the same venue??? The missed opportunities hurt
the more you think about them. This is not a finger-pointing exercise. It is
however an effort to spark debate about the future of South Africa’s
investment into the world market with the greatest potential for South
Africa and our wines in particular.
Many producers have reported exceptional sales into the USA, but this could
easily be explained away with ‘filling the pipeline’ – the shelves are
starting to report increased populations of South African wines – but are
they moving. The answer has to be yes, but too slowly. This is a consumer
issue and not an importer/distributor issue. Distributors will not take on
any more brands if the existing ones are not moving. This is what is
happening and we should welcome debate on this. This is not a rule, but a
generalization – many producers are doing well – but Brand South Africa is
NOT flying off the shelf. We need to coordinate our icons – what about gold
and diamonds, table mountain, wild animals, Nelson Mandela, Charlize Theron,
Dave Matthews and many other wonderful SA icons that are yet to be
Another contentious question has to be raised about the (negligible)
representation of WOSA board members at this event. The board members on the
tour numbered one (excluding the hard-working CEO, Su) –out of a possible
13. If this market is going to be successful we need the support of the
board and this is only going to come about if they understand the market and
this will only ever come about as a result of having been here. It is my
contention that in the next year we are going to have to raise our game
significantly through greater man-power, significantly increased funding and
national coordination if we are going to win the consumer over. Without a
thorough understanding of the complexities and challenges of the US market,
we cannot have strong leadership and without this we are dead in the water.
Despite these challenges, South Africa is gaining traction that will provide
us with a solid platform for our REAL marketing push. Lets call this a
scouting expedition shall we?

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