The Tasting Panel magazine

January/February 2015

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january/february 2015  /  the tasting panel  /  99 the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, the national trade association that represents the wholesale tier of the wines and spirits industry, will be holding its annual convention, April 12th through the 15th in Orlando, Florida. The convention—attended by representatives of wholesale companies and sup- pliers from all over the country—offers a unique opportunity for suppliers to get in front of the decision-makers that can help them introduce and grow their brands in the United States. "We've been around since 1943, and we've had a conven- tion every year since we began, so this will be our seventy- second conference," explains Craig Wolf, President and CEO of the WSWA. "It is for us a very important event because it brings together suppliers and wholesalers all in one place; it gives an opportunity for new products to be introduced and seen by the nation's wholesalers, as well as for people to maintain established relationships while creating new connections among their peers in the industry. It really is a 'can't miss' opportunity." The WSWA Convention offers attendees a full range of experiences. General sessions and the U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum address such things as industry trends and regulatory issues—an opportunity to learn from some of the industry's most well-respected leaders. Celebrity and some- times controversial speakers are also on the bill. This year's guest speakers include Rob O'Neill, the Navy Seal who killed Osama Bin Laden, but in years past, attendees heard from Captain Richard Phillips—yes, the one played by Tom Hanks in the Hollywood movie that bears his name—Sarah Palin and Jordan Belfort, the actual "Wolf of Wallstreet." The main exhibit hall features suppliers large and small. The larger brands often roll out new brand extensions and promotions, while smaller emerging brands are trying to get noticed by the country's gatekeepers. Suppliers can augment their exhibits with private hospitality suites. This is where the real work gets done. "We take meeting rooms and hotel suites and convert them into usable spaces for suppliers and wholesalers to meet in a more private environment," accord- ing to Cindy Nachman-Senders, WSWA's Senior Meetings and Conventions Consultant. "Some of our wholesalers also have their own business meetings at our convention. It's a very efficient way to get business done." Adds Wolf, "If you are a supplier in multiple states with multiple wholesalers, this is the best place to meet with everyone under one roof." For wholesale companies looking to expand their port- folios, it is essential to meet and get to know prospective suppliers. "Major wholesalers get sent thousands of new products every year, but it is hard for a supplier to penetrate a market that way," says Wolf. "They need to know who they are dealing with and what you bring to the table. Our business has always been and will always be about relation- ships, and a lot still gets done with just a handshake. That's the kind of connection you get at our convention." New trends and new product launches are a central part of the allure of the WSWA Convention. Tito's Handmade Vodka, Kenny Chesney's Blue Chair Bay Rum, LiDestri Spirits' mü and Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head Vodka were all introduced at WSWA conventions. Many more have their product launches in venues nearby when the WSWA Convention is in town, a logical choice when one considers all the taste-makers that attend. Wine, beer and spirits competitions are another way that brands can be showcased at the WSWA Convention, and this year promises to be the biggest turnout yet. Expert panels of judges taste and rate the entries, awarding med- als in four levels—Silver, Gold, Double Gold and Best in Show. There are also two mixology competitions. "Call for Cocktails" features original cocktail creations from supplier mixologists, while the "Iron Mixologist" competition puts the spotlight on mixologists employed by wholesalers. Nachman-Senders sees this as a way to highlight a key role that the wholesale companies play for their brands. "A lot of people think that wholesalers simply move cases, but they are some of the best brand-builders in the business, and many suppliers are surprised when they find out that they have their own mixologists." Adds Wolf, "Wholesalers help retailers and restaurants create meaningful customer experiences, and even help create cocktail menus and wine lists. It's easy to overlook this important role they play in promoting brands and products." These competitions are covered by trade media, but increasingly, traditional media outlets pick up the story, giving further exposure to the brands featured. "Mixologists are the new celebrity chefs," says Wolf. It all boils down to one thing for Nachman-Senders: "There are other tradeshows, but none quite like the WSWA Convention, because this is where wholesalers gather. It is a sophisticated, industry-only, business-to-business opportu- nity. Nothing goes to market without wholesalers." For more information, or to register for the convention, the WSWA has a special website, For more general information about the WSWA and its mission, visit

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