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ProWein 2014: Specialist Article on Wine and Gastronomy – October 2013

Wine and Spirits Consumption in the Gastronomy:
Activating Sales Potential through Creativity

Wine and spirits in the German catering sector are currently not often seen as the largest generators of sales. It is, however, very possible to earn money with wines and spirits if restaurateurs and sommeliers are prepared to explore new ideas and take customers by the hand.

Unlike in many European countries, wine consumption in Germany has been comparatively stable at about 20 million hectoliters for many years. Here wine also holds its own against its major rivals on the drinks market: “Never before has so much wine and so little beer been consumed in Germany,” says Alexander Kohnen, Managing Director of the International Wine Institute in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler. What is regretful for German wine is that only a comparatively small proportion of this wine is consumed outside the home. Unfortunately, the data available here is scant because – according to research institute Forschungsanstalt Geisenheim – precise definition of the market share of wine consumed outside the home in Germany is “almost impossible due to the lack of differentiated data in the distribution structures”. Nevertheless, the Geisenheim research did reveal the following: in Germany, no more than 15% of total volume is consumed outside people’s own four walls. Turnover for the out-of-home sector in 2012 stood at Euro 1.1 billion. Although this represents a slight plus compared to 2009 to 2011 (1 billion each), even optimists do not rate this as a paradigm shift.

The Basis: Calculations that Add up
Instead of coming to terms with largely stagnating wine sales in restaurants, restaurateurs should put their thinking caps on, sweep out the old and implement new ideas. “Wine sales are still a key part of the catering trade,” stresses Bernd Glauben, Managing Director of the Coburg hotel Goldene Traube. Provided the prerequisites are in place. “For me as an hotelier it has always been important to base my business on moderate wine margins,” explains Glauben who is also serving as President of the German Sommeliers’ Union. It is possible to overcome diners’ reluctance to order a 0.75 liter portion of wine using reasonable margins – not with three, four or even six times the purchase price – just as it is with the option of only charging for what has actually been consumed from the bottle.

Wines by the Glass as a Sales Factor
There is room for creativity not only with sales by the bottle but also by the glass. “Wines by the glass are key sales generators in restaurants,” says Christina Hilker, Sommelière and Co-owner at the company Sommelier-Consult, “when they are properly attuned with the food.” For this, specialist knowledge is indispensable. Restaurateurs, sommeliers and other service staff must exchange ideas with each other, visit winemakers and get further training. An ideal opportunity for this is offered by the trade fair ProWein, held every March in Düsseldorf, Germany. Some 4,800 exhibitors from 50 countries present their wines here while numerous events provide specific wine expertise, for instance on grape varieties and regions. “Anyone wishing to gain an overview of the wine world, innovations and trends are perfectly catered to in Düsseldorf,” states Otto Lindner, Executive at Lindner Hotels AG. And Billy Wagner, Sommelier at Berlin wine bar Rutz, confirms that the fair is ideal for “familiarizing yourself with the new vintages from famous winemakers and discovering very new wineries.”

Protecting Winemakers, Developing Tactics
Alexander Kohnen advises that the key to wine tactics (and also trade fair visits) is: “preparing and choosing a theme”. Restaurants do not all always have to offer everything and feature incomprehensibly large and comprehensive wine lists. Instead of focusing on classified Bordeaux with purchase prices already exceeding most budgets they should look out for up-and-coming producers – something that is particularly feasible at ProWein. “You have to seek out your own winemakers and protect them,” adds Uwe Aust, Owner and Chef at Landhotel Aust in Warendorf. Providing information and details on soil characteristics and vintages or even offering wine trips can be helpful. “Wine events are also useful,” says Aust.

The same applies for creative ideas like presenting unfinished bottles for diners to drink at home in nice packaging or even selling full bottles to them. “While I can’t say that take-away wine sales generate huge sales increases,” says Christoph Suhre, co-owner of D’VINE in Düsseldorf, “they do create customer ties”. While setting up carpools, possibly in conjunction with other businesses, might require a great deal of logistics, it can reduce driving license worries. And allowing your diners to bring their own wine has always been a smart move. “On Mondays we only charge Euro 10 corkage,” says D’VINE owner Suhre, “and we also get to try the wine”.

While the scope of a wine list is losing importance the reverse is the case when it comes to authenticity. “Both in terms of design and content wine lists must be attuned to the cuisine on offer, to the region and to the style of the establishment,” stresses hotelier Bernd Glauben. It is essential to offer ready-to-drink wines and market observation is indispensable. While practically all restaurateurs confirm that German wines are in fashion, an increased interest in long neglected New World regions now seems to be emerging. “The New World is back in fashion,” notes Alexander Kohnen.

Spirits: Top Quality and New Avenues
And what about developments on the spirits market, specifically in the catering sector? “Per capita spirits consumption stagnated in Germany in 2012 compared to the year before,” notes Angelika Wiesgen-Pick, Managing Director of the Federal Association of German Spirits Industry and Importers. “Some 15% of total market volume is accounted for by catering businesses.” This is still one percentage point above 2011 but far below the figure for 1980 (22%). However, those still wishing to generate turnover should not cut corners. “They must choose top quality,” says restaurateur Uwe Aust who is celebrating great success with high-quality rum.

And just as with wine, those in the spirits sector need to explore new avenues. “I think it’s a shame that spirits are only offered after the meal as an afterthought,” notes Christina Hilker. “They can also be served in small quantities during the meal, for instance with dessert or with cheese refined with grape marc.” Another option could be surprising diners with handpicked, unusual “secret tip-offs” thereby promoting customers ties. Here, too, ProWein can provide inspiration as high-quality spirits from throughout the world are featured in their own dedicated hall.

One thing is certain: restaurateurs and hoteliers who keep their eye on the wine and spirits market, observe trends, do further training and develop their own tactics have the best prospects for activating as yet untapped sales potential.

The author Wolfgang Faßbender works as a freelance gastronomy and wine journalist for numerous German and Swiss media publications. He has written and published 70 books and has worked as a restaurant critic for over 20 years

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