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Marketing by the Glass

Marketing by the Glass Fred Tibbitts started sweeping warehouse floors in New York when he was 16. Now at 58 he heads Fred Tibbitts & Associates (FTA), and is the wine by the glass consultant to more chain hotels than anyone else in the world. Starwood Hotels & Resorts (Asia-Pacific), Raffles Hotels International, Accor Asia (Novotel & Sofitel) and the Inter-Continental Hotels Group South East Asia are just some of the giants on his “wine list”.

He helps chain hotels decide which wines they will offer by the glass. FTA’s wine by the glass programme with “on-premise” chains introduces new world wines to new customers globally and helps build demand for them. 

In addition, Fred is an advisor to many wine companies in the US, Chile, South Africa and Australia, opening chain hotel and restaurant doors for their brands worldwide.  Right now he is exploring distribution channels and brand building strategies for China…an almost untapped market for wine appreciation by a huge and growing market segment  -“the newly affluent Chinese”.

Fred also hosts a series of relationship building industry dinners in key international centres throughout the year to introduce a select and influential clientele to outstanding new wine labels.  He is a regular wine columnist for some of the leading magazines for the hotel and food & beverage industries including HOTFAB Executive, Restaurant Marketing, Beverage Retailer and Nightclub & Bar in the US, and Hotel Asia Pacific in Asia Pacific.

In March Fred was brought to New Zealand on an NZTE-sponsored visit.  He toured wineries in the North and South Islands with George Vizer, Vice President of the Food & Beverage for the 133 Hyatt Hotels in North America (who commissioned Fred to lead the trip), to find good value, quality New Zealand wines to include on the Hyatt master wine list.  Fred was also on the lookout for local wine companies to represent overseas for sales to on-premise chains.

Q: What are your observations of the New Zealand wine industry?

FT: I was last here three years ago for “Pinot Noir 2001” and I was delighted to return and see all the progress – so many grape varietals have come on and the quality ranges from pretty good to great.  The pinot noir is getting bigger and better, the sauvignon blanc is as good as ever and there’s a move to some interesting varietals.  Some very special wines are coming out of New Zealand.

The New Zealand wine industry is really still in its infancy and I think the alliances being formed with wine companies from other places, like Australia and California, are helping it to grow.  Increasingly, other successful wineries are taking a share in or partnering with New Zealand wineries.  It’s great because they get additional expertise while directing their own destinies.  The partnerships provide capital for them to access new technology and they also benefit from shared knowledge and skills. The best ideas often come from a blending of know-how. 

New Zealand’s as innovative as anybody and full of energy.   It needs to be serious in using the best technology it can to advance its viticulture.

Q: What work have you done with New Zealand wineries? 

FT: In the past I’ve marketed Matua Valley until their acquisition by Australian company Beringer Blass.  As a result of my recent visit, I’m looking forward to working with Greg Hay of Peregrine Winery in Central Otago.  I’ve been looking for a good New Zealand wine to promote in hotels in Asia-Pacific.  It’s a winery that stood out, because it had energy as well as great wine in the bottle and great value; but there is plenty of room for others to step forward and ask for our help. 

We’ve also had New Zealand sponsors at the annual industry dinners that FTA hosts. At our recent Spring Dinner at the Harvard Club in New York, we poured three New Zealand wines.  Peregrine was a sponsor at our Singapore Black Tie dinner and they will be a sponsor at our very first Beijing dinner on June 25 as well as at our first dinner in Shanghai at the Westin Hotel on September 16.  At Greg’s request we’re helping them secure a distributor in China.  And there are still opportunities for as many as three New Zealand wineries to join us for our Fifth Annual FTA Black Tie Dinner in Hong Kong on 29 October or for our Thirteenth Annual Fall Dinner in New York on 16 November. 

Right now, a lot of New Zealand wineries are smaller than FTA’s usual clients, so we’re in the process of putting together a modified fee programme to give smaller and medium sized companies the opportunity to work with us.  Also, by combining with other companies, in the future many are likely to become a size that’s viable to do business with us globally.

Q: So cost is still an important factor in marketing our wine internationally?

FT: Value is very important.  The world economy hasn’t fully recovered since 9/11 and people are increasingly careful with their money.  The market is becoming more and more competitive and so your wine has got to be great value, which means better quality than expected for the money.

Q: How aware are your clients of New Zealand wine?

A: Increasingly, New Zealand is regarded as a very important appellation.  More and more wine lists are including at least one New Zealand wine.  That’s happening because their customers are saying “we like New Zealand wine”.

Q: How can New Zealand raise the profile of its wine internationally?

A: The primary way that wine brands are built around the world is by people dining out and enjoying them by the glass with friends.  You need to put New Zealand wine on tables in restaurants in the chain hotels and restaurants that are increasingly dominating the major cities of the world, where the wine consuming public is doing their sampling and where the disposable income is being spent on entertainment.  That is where the wineries of the world are battling for market share.  Branding is all about positioning, associations and references.  Brands are built in the on-premise, that is restaurants and hotels, not the off-premise or the retail side of the business.  As a direct result of every case of wine sampled in restaurants, bars and hotels, three to five cases of that wine are later sold at retail.

NZTE’s role is perfect in helping the industry make important connections with key players in the business overseas, building its editorial profile in international media and leveraging expertise to enhance it capability. 

Q: Do you see a market niche for New Zealand wine?

FT: If there’s one wine from New Zealand you want to try it would be sauvignon blanc.  Then comes pinot noir.  I’m aware that you have a lot of other varieties coming on well, like pinot gris and the Bordeaux blends, and the wine connoisseurs of the world are starting to experiment with these but it’s important to remember that most people are not wine knowledgeable…they’re maybe familiar with chardonnay, cabernet, merlot and that’s about it.  Wine by the glass is a way of making introductions.  I’ve created opportunities for wine from Australia, South Africa and Chile and now I intend to do the same for New Zealand wine. 

Q: What’s the success of your “wine by the glass” business?

A: Providing consistently superior value in wine by the glass creates a comfort factor that comes with familiarity.  Frequent guests such as business people who are loyal to one hotel brand regionally or globally come to know a core of wines they can count on when they dine-out and entertain in the chain’s restaurants.  They feel confident about ordering.  The world is now one marketplace and it requires a global level of consistent good value, which translates into increased premium wine sales on and off-premise.

Q: Your foray into China is interesting – do we need to start relabelling bottles in Mandarin?

A: If you’re going to be successful in Asia you have to have a strong distributor in China. The number of upwardly mobile people in China is growing rapidly and they want to replicate everything Western – from jeeps to blue jeans – and that includes drinking good wine (particularly red wine).  Large, mostly western hotel chains are going up in Beijing, Shanghai and all over China– the locals go there and find they want the whole Western dining experience.  They like to try different wine and think “I like that” then go out and buy it the next day at a local wine shop.  And the thing about wine by the glass is they can keep on trying different brands that pair well with their menu choices, regardless of what their friends are having.  It’s important for New Zealand wine to be featured by the glass in every major market worldwide.  Where it is promoted by the key chains by the glass, market share quickly develops for the good; where it is not, the wines of other countries easily benefit.

Q: What’s your favourite New Zealand wine?

A: I like your sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, and I appreciate the new varietals too. There’s no one label that dominates when I think of New Zealand, however, Peregrine, Felton Road, Ngatarawa, Te Awa Farm Winery, Muddy Water and St Clair Estate Wines would have to be up there among my favourites; but I also fondly remember Tohu, Villa Maria Estate, Cloudy Bay, Sherwood, Mission Estate Winery and Palliser Estate.  I like so many New Zealand wines and I’m looking forward to having more and more of them.

Over 75% of New Zealand businesses are in service industries.


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