Procter & Gamble has long been respected for it's integrated product development, integration of acquisitions, and brand marketing. Consider the number of iconic brands they hold like Ivory soap, Pampers diapers, Duracell batteries, Gillette razors, Tampax feminine care products, Crest toothpaste, Tide detergent, and the list goes well beyond that. P&G has more billion dollar brands than any company in the world ... but they don't sell wine. If P&G sold wine people would be running to their mailboxes for free samples and the TTB would not be happy about that.
P&G figured out that sampling had a cost, but the cost was more than recovered when consumers got to the store and with the knowledge of how that product impacted them, were able to make a preferred decision about a purchase.
Somewhere in the 1960's Procter & Gamble reevaluated their thinking and decided that their shotgun approach in sending Crest to everyone might be less than effective with someone who had no teeth. The reality was back in the day, P&G had no idea who had teeth, who had kids, and who were screwed up bankers that never cleaned their nails or brushed their teeth.
Today big data gives marketers more information than anyone ever thought possible, and at some point I think we are going to see free samples back in the mailboxes. For today however, sampling for consumer products takes place with consumers going to the companies asking to try their products. And if you ask, the producers will send you free stuff to try or coupons making something almost free. But that doesn't work well with wines.
With wines, one of the most important determinants of a sale is familiarity with the wine; a prior experience and if not, a recommendation from someone trusted. We can get into the discussion of YELP versus Robert Parker but lets stick with sampling products.
Two weeks ago when I spoke with a large winery and their wholesalers, I asked about their feelings about tasting rooms. Unsurprisingly to me, the wholesalers had a sense that they were The Sherriff of Nottingham and the wineries with tasting rooms were like Robin Hood; taking from the wholesalers and giving to themselves and their customers.
One of the wine company folks there thought they had an approach dialed in that was fair - and looking from one particular way, it is fair. What they do is only sell wine out of their tasting room that isn't sold wholesale. My perspective with that is that is 180 degrees backwards.
Tasting rooms are the modern day equivalent to P&G samples in a consumer's mailbox. People don't really buy a lot of wine from the winery. They try wine in tasting rooms - they sample - and they buy the wine at a restaurant and grocery store because they recognize the wine. If they join a wine club, they are going to get a delivery of vino. But even a wine club is a form of sampling. Furthermore, those few albeit core consumers who do join wine clubs seldom stay in the club for more than 3 years ... so maybe they are getting 4 or 5 cases? I don't think that should be a fear for wholesalers.
The reality is wholesalers benefit when consumers walk into tasting rooms and gain first hand experience with a wine. The producer is really supporting the wholesaler when they sell wine from their property. If Procter & Gamble could sell wine, they would absorb the costs of trial and sampling and I guarantee they would sell wine from their own tasting room! And that brings up the point of price in the tasting room.
With the winery absorbing the sampling costs and overhead associated with bringing consumers to their property, should the winery need to coordinate market prices with the wholesalers prices and not "undercut them?"
The consumer is often expecting a discount when they come to the tasting room. How will they feel when they find the wine less expensive at Safeway the same day? In my opinion, the wholesalers ought to be happy with the trickle of wine sold from tasting rooms relative to what they sell in the market - and they should be fine with the winery's discounted pricing. If the wholesalers were handling the sampling function they would be trying to figure out ways to cupon (that's discounting) and offering free sampling like any other consumer product.
Time to wake up wholesalers. Your producers are giving you a gift by selling wine from the tasting room - even at a discount under your suggested retail price. You don't want to provide free samples and trial offers. Wineries aren't a competitor. They are a gratis marketing agent.
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What do you think? Do you have any stories to pass on about how your wholesaler considers your wine club and tasting room?