Hundreds of wineries, distilleries, importers, distributors and retailers met in San Francisco for the debut of the highly anticipated International Bulk Wine & Spirits Show on July 26-27. In addition to presentations and workshops over the two-day period, the event featured more than 80 exhibitors from all over the world, who all gathered on the trade floor of the South San Francisco Convention Center to showcase their services for the bulk and private label wine market.

The bulk wine market, once mostly an afterthought for wineries, has turned into an important point of competitive differentiation. “Retailers, national wine and liquor chains, restaurants, hotels and other businesses within the hospitality industry are taking a closer look at how to leverage this important trend,” said Malvika Patel of Beverage Trade Network, the organizers of the show. “As a result, it’s important to get out in front of this trend before your rivals do.”

Day 1 of the show, which started with a keynote from Bobby Koch, President and CEO of the Wine Institute, introduced participants to the current parameters of the bulk wine market. Day 2 of the show was dedicated to a more detailed analysis of how to get started within the bulk wine and private label markets.

“A major focus of the show was simply educating the participants about steps they can take to enter this new market,” said Malvika Patel. An example of this educational focus was a special presentation by Nat DiBuduo, President of Allied Grape Growers, who discussed how current trends in grape supply and demand impact how and why participants enter the bulk wine market. He illustrated this concept with a closer look at the market for Pinot Grigio. In addition, noted wine industry journalist Deborah Parker Wong gave a presentation on how to develop and deliver a successful bulk wine program. As she pointed out, the global bulk market is becoming more fluid.

What has changed recently is that the private label and bulk trade is no longer just about re-establishing equilibrium in the market based on factors of supply and demand – it’s about improving margins, growing sales and generating customer loyalty with in-house brands. This is a powerful new dynamic that has the opportunity to reshape the wine and spirits industry, as Bob Paulinski MW suggested during his presentation on Day 2 of how retailers and restaurants can grow their private label brands.

However, as with any new trend, certain myths and misconceptions will always persist. As Tim Hanni MW pointed out in his presentation on Day 1 of the event, part of the reason why the U.S. has been slower than other global markets in adopting the trend is because of all the unknowns and uncertainties surrounding the bulk wine trend. That’s why education and information is so important.

At the same time as participants were learning about the changing dimensions of the bulk wine market from some of the leading names in the wine industry, they also had a chance to mingle on the exhibition floor. The IBWSS event brought together buyers from every channel, including some of the top industry names among wineries, distilleries, distributors, importers and retailers. These participants included wineries and distilleries looking to sell bulk wine and spirits, importers with one-time excess stock to sell, and managers of national and regional chains looking for new products to offer.

“If you’ve been looking for a way to create your own private label program, this was a unique opportunity to connect with the companies who can help to make it happen,” said Malvika Patel of Beverage Trade Network. In fact, as Chris Mehringer, President of Park Street, highlighted on Day 2 of the event, there are plenty of new ways to get involved. In fact, he suggested in his presentation, it’s even possible to start a spirits brand without even owning a distillery, suggesting that such an “asset-light” strategy might be appropriate for small brand owners.

One key theme that emerged during the event was being responsive to the needs and wants of the end consumer – the wine drinker. As Damien Wilson, Chair of Wine Business Education, pointed out, consumers love bulk wines, so it’s important for importers and distributors to find out the best way to deliver these wines. Wilson highlighted that great quality bulk wines are easily available, now more than ever and must make their way to consumers.

The IBWSS event in San Francisco also featured two days of master classes and workshop sessions. On Day 1 of the event, winemaker Clark Smith guided master class participants on a review of postmodern winemaking that focused on the evolving relationship between winemaker and wine drinker, while Steve Burch of Radoux USA offered insights about the various opportunities to get involved in the bulk spirits industry and Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories discussed the role of certificates of analysis in international trade.

On Day 2, Tim Hanni MW led a workshop on changing consumer tastes, while Jeff Hansen of AH Wines offered specialized insights about sourcing and creating wines for the Chinese market. “Sell it first, produce it second,” he told participants. Later, John Santos of Enartis USA highlighted what it means to create the “perfect blend.” This can take some time and effort, Santos pointed out, but it’s well worth the effort because it will be much easier to gain distribution.