How to get wine into US chain restaurants

Tuesday, 6. March 2018 - 15:00

A panel of chain restaurant buyers and consultants convened at the Luxury Marketing Council of San Francisco’s recent winery “Boot Camp,” last week, to talk about how wineries can sell more wine to chain restaurants. The panel was moderated by Alf Nucifora, the founder and chairman of the Luxury Council.

The panelists, who included Brian Bennett, founding partner of the 11-location Paul Martin’s American Grill based in Southern California, agreed that persistence and a good story were essential to successful wine sales at chains. They added that wine producers should also do their homework about a restaurant’s style, focus and wine list offerings before trying to approach a buyer for a sale. Additional hurdles for foreign producers might also include needing to have both an importer and distributor representing them in the US before they can sell into any restaurant accounts.

Selling wine to multi-unit restaurants, from those that have a dozen locations to some which number in the hundreds, remains a major challenge. It is one that is impacted by these restaurants’ needs to access the same wines and vintages in multiple states—no-small distributional hurdle in the US – as well as the need for volume in order to supply dozens of locations.

The details

No one is as passionate about a set of wines as the producers themselves, noted several members of the panel. That is why, according to Bennett, is it so important that winemakers are present at least once a year in the restaurants in which they sell wine. He added that restaurants, unlike retailers, have little point-of-sale material on hand so they need to harness the power of a winery’s employees on the sales floor to help educate consumers and sell their wines.

“On-premise training energizes staff,” agreed Clarice Turner, owner of Carneros Associates. Storytelling about a winery’s history is also essential, according to Turner, and this is something that many Old World wineries have an innate advantage at because they have been producing wines for centuries longer than many domestic producers.

Having sufficient wine supplies in order to supply multi-unit chains can also be an issue. For a discount-priced happy hour pour, Bennett advised that wineries should have two to three thousand cases available annually. If a winery is going to sell a $19.00 Pinot Noir by the glass, then 50 cases of the product annually may be more than enough.

Using a broker who may already have many chain contacts, can also help wineries get a leg up on the chain sales process, according to Mark Crisler, founder of the Sonoma-based Trellis Wine Group brokerage. Most brokers work on a retainer or partial sales commissions from wine depletions, he said. However, few will be able to help foreign producers get an importer or distributor prior to coming to market.
Liza B. Zimmerman