"The quality of the bulk wines on offer has grown"

On November 22nd and 23rd, the World Bulk Wine exhibition, the world's largest bulk wine event, will take place in Amsterdam. Meininger's talked to the exhibition's CEO Otilia Romero de Condés about what she expects of this year's fair and how the bulk wine market has developped.

Credit: WBWE
Credit: WBWE

What changes have you seen in exhibitor and visitor numbers and their nationalities over the last five years, including 2021?
The last few years have been pivotal for the WBWE’s outreach, both in terms of the premiumisation of the bulk wine sector and in terms of its internalization. At the WBWE, we have witnessed how the number of visitors and exhibitors from the northern hemisphere has increased and consolidated; and we should also note the large turnout of producing countries from the southern hemisphere.
Today, even with the unusual circumstances of the pandemic, exhibitors from 13 different countries (France, South Africa, Italy, USA, Germany, Chile, Belgium, Portugal, Macedonia, Australia, Argentina, Romania and Hungary) are going to participate in the trade fair and visitors from across the world will attend; we have exceeded expectations in a year marked by COVID, climate change and problems with harvests in the northern hemisphere. All of the stands at the WBWE21 are ready to display 80% of the world’s harvest in order to supply the demand in the market. 


World Bulk Wine Exhibition CEO, Otilia Romero de Condés


What changes have you seen in the range of products exhibitors present to visitors?
Undoubtedly, the quality of the bulk wines on offer has grown, and that’s because there are companies who are willing to pay more for wine that is worth it. Moreover, the upturn in the diversity of grape varieties from producing countries is an extra appealing aspect for this type of market. All this, together with improved design, new packaging methods, private labels and the importance of sustainability, turn bulk wine into a great opportunity in 2021.
The WBWE has always been interested in showing the new trends for the market’s future; so, new packaging methods have always been part of the event. Design, alternative packages and bulk wine all go hand in hand, providing infinite creative possibilities. 
Canned wines are both helping to introduce wine to a different age range and to open new market niches worldwide. However, canned wine will not be the sole focal point, as wine on tap and bag-in-box wine will also have a key role at the fair.
The increase in consumption in households during the pandemic has triggered the purchase of bag-in-box wine for convenient domestic use.
The market has to adapt itself to a creative, convenient and sustainable environment; all this —alongside the quality of bulk wines— leads to a perfect interaction at the WBWE. #bulkwinerevolution.


Outsiders often imagine that “bulk wine” is synonymous with “cheap”. How much premium and AOP wine is on offer at the fair?
As I mentioned, fortunately the notion of bulk wine as “cheap wine” is no more. Currently, everything has radically shifted, and that’s something in which private labels and new packaging have been very helpful; trends are followed, quality wines are sought after and organic wines are on the rise in order to meet consumers’ demands.
Since the first WBWE in 2009, we have encouraged quality wine. You can find the best wines from diverse origins, different PDOs and all kinds of grapes and prices, not forgetting high-quality spirits. Countries such as Australia, France (particularly Bordeaux), Italy and Chile, among others, will all be part of this fair, along with their premium ranges.


The Chinese wine market seems to have slowed its growth. You run an event in China and welcome Chinese visitors to Amsterdam. How do you see the bulk wine trade in this region evolving?
China’s wine market has been slowing down since 2017 as a result of the country’s stagnant economy and the prolonged trade war between China and the United States. The pandemic and the confinement in 2020 have further complicated this situation.
The wine imported by China plummeted by 27% in terms of value, amounting to €1,703m last year, according to Chinese customs data. This represents a sharp decline over two consecutive years: the spiralling growth seen in the past appears to have come to an end. Nevertheless, it should be noted that China’s wine imports grew compared to domestically-produced wine: wine imports swelled from €1,773m in 2015 to €2,122m in 2019. 
Looking at the figures from 2020, China’s total wine consumption dropped by 17.4%; the strict blockade measures during the first three-month period certainly played a key role. However, unlike the US or Europe, where substantial off-trade wine sales have helped to offset losses, in China, that did not happen. The country’s wine consumption is heavily focused on restaurants, hotels, bars and other commercial premises, whereas household consumption is negligible.
At present, China’s borders are closed to visitors, so the trade fair there has to wait, although I am happy to say that in June 2022, we will launch the WBWE USA which will take place in Sonoma (California)! 


Meininger's also asked the companies who attend the exhibition what they expect this year


The 2021 vintage, like 2017, is a small one in most of Europe and New Zealand, but some regions, including Romania, Australia and the Americas have had good crops. How do you see this imbalance affecting trade and pricing?
We know that the global wine-production volume in 2021 will be a record low due to the unfavourable climate in Europe’s winegrowing regions. According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), “Global wine production in 2021 will be 250m hl - a decrease of 4% from 2020 and a 7% less than the average of the past 20 years”.
The OIV Director General, Pau Roca, declared that “adverse weather conditions” such as spring frosts, hailstorms and downpours, led the “combined production of the countries” to plummet by 22m hl compared to 2020.
Germany, the fourth largest European wine-producing country, is an exception, as its production volume increased by 4% compared to 2020, despite a cold snap during spring and the floods in certain wine-growing regions.
Wine regions in South America, South Africa and Australia have had a “very positive” year, producing a record volume of 59m hl - an increase of 19% compared to 2020.
At present, delivering a reliable prognosis for the future is not an easy task, yet we know that there will be a greater balance in the market. The OIV foresees a rise in consumption of 2%; and the fact that there have been moderate harvests with a downturn in traditional producing countries and an upturn across the southern hemisphere, sets an interesting scenario for commercial transactions. All these circumstances turn the WBWE into the fair that will set market prices and purchasing trends.
The reality is that the balance within the wine industry has changed, and right now a wait-and-see approach is the best; we are concerned about logistics and the lack of raw materials….


There are also variations between wine styles. White wine seems to be in shorter supply than red. Is that true?
Due to severe weather conditions, white wine production saw an important decline this year, which triggered a rise in prices, and a slump in bulk exports of white wines of over 63%. Conversely, higher priced wines registered a slight increase of 9.1% compared to 2020.
We can certainly talk about a fall in production in countries such as Spain, France, and Italy; this has led their prices to increase; moreover, given a higher demand and a lower supply of grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, other countries that can cater for the global market are being sought after.
Bear in mind that consumer preferences are shifting. Now, the end-consumer seeks enjoyable, convenient, and easy-to-drink wines. And that’s the reason why, at the WBWE, buyers can find different wine styles to meet the market’s current demands. New private labels, new packaging methods and creativity also have a positive effect on industry trends.
Organic wines, traceability and sustainability are also more important for consumers nowadays —aspects that all go hand in hand with quality bulk wine.


Do you expect buyers to look to new regions when sourcing varietals such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot?
At the WBWE we are constantly in touch with buyers, and they are usually loyal to their regular suppliers. But we are experiencing very particular circumstances, and due to the high demand and potentially diminishing supply, they are being forced to look for new regions to buy from: countries such as Germany, Portugal, Romania and practically the entire Southern hemisphere, with Australia and Chile leading the way… They are becoming more important every day.
Varieties such as Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most in demand and the ones with the lowest supply. At the WBWE, only the fastest buyers will be able to get them. We remind you that thanks to VMarket —the fair’s exclusive online B2B platform— buyers and brokers can start making their purchases as of the 15th of November.


How do you see the bulk market as a whole evolving, regionally and by volume and value?
The players in the field are changing and wineries must adapt to the new circumstances. There is an important part of the bulk wine market that supplies the demand for ‘commodity’ wine.  This is the aspect that varies the least. But there are more and more buyers of premium ranges and wines for private labels, without forgetting the significant increase in sales of bag-in-box and new packaging. We’ll have to wait and see how business develops during WBWE21 to see how all the players fare and who ends up winning the game. 
Wineries and visitors must stay focused and be prepared for high competitiveness this year. We must be ready to make the most of any new opportunities that arise during the fair.

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