Monday, 02 October 2023 15:25

From the CEO: Meeting expectations

Written by  Philip Gregan
Philip Gregan Philip Gregan

OPINION: I am writing this the day after the opening game of the Rugby World Cup and the All Blacks' loss to France.

For most New Zealanders going into the World Cup there will have been the normal expectations, based on a long history, that the All Blacks will perform well and will be title contenders.

Expectations around the All Blacks are nearly always stratospheric, reflecting their global reputation, built over more than 100 years, as probably the best known and most successful rugby team in the world. While the France game did not play out as hoped, only time will tell how well-founded the country's high expectations are for the tournament as a whole (hopefully very well of course!).

The expectations around rugby got me thinking about the expectations around New Zealand wine. What does the public expect of New Zealand wines? I imagine a key expectation for most consumers will be that our wines reflect the reputation built in key markets over the past 20 or so years. There are clearly various components to that reputation, but a key one will be that our wines are distinctive, that they are quintessentially Kiwi, that they reflect our wonderful winegrowing regions and subregions. Our wines need to reflect Oscar Wilde's maxim: "Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."

High quality will be a related expectation, particularly given the price for which our wines sell. Our wines sit well above market average in most markets; in fact we are usually in the top two or three countries as far as average price is concerned. On that basis, consumers definitely expect something special when they buy a New Zealand wine.

Innovation is also part of the New Zealand reputation. Not only have our wines been innovative but the way we have presented them has been innovative as well. Screwcaps are the classic example, of course – the world of wine was completely changed by the New Zealand-led screwcap revolution. There are other examples, including the way our winemakers have worked together to promote our wines, and our early involvement in the lighter alcohol wine category.

Without doubt sustainability is also an expectation. Purchasing a New Zealand wine is a discretionary expenditure for consumers, and given the price at which our wines sell, they will expect producers to have done ‘the right thing’. Sustainability – in a broad sense looking after our soil, our water, our ecosystems, our people – is something that consumers expect our producers will do as a matter of course. As such it needs to be baked into our DNA, as it clearly is for many growers and wineries.

There will be other expectations as well, all of which will be based on a mix of personal experience and what consumers may have read or heard about our wines.

Whatever the expectations, what is clear is that over many years our wines have met or exceeded them. That is why New Zealand wine sales have grown steadily in both volume and value over many years to the point that combined export and domestic sales are now well in excess of $2.5 billion per year. The flip side of meeting consumer expectations is not meeting them. We see how deeply felt reactions to unmet expectations can be every time the All Blacks lose a match, or don’t win a World Cup.

From a New Zealand wine perspective, ensuring the consumer expectations are met is a complex exercise with thousands of different brands and labels, 1,400 growers and wineries, over 7,000 full time employees, thousands of seasonal workers, and regional bodies and New Zealand Winegrowers all involved. Alongside the industry, outside parties (including the wineries’ import, distribution and retail partners), those providing goods and services to the sector, and even the Government, have roles to play in ensuring that New Zealand wines continue to meet or exceed the expectations of our customers all over the world who buy our wines.

Do that consistently over time and the industry will be able to continue to look to the future with confidence. Long may that continue!

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