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Where's the consumer in all of this?

Published:  18 May, 2011

Harpers features editor Laura Clark blogs from the London International Wine Fair.

 Let's be honest - the LIWF is a bit of a love-in.

As a wine trade journalist, I go to the fair to talk to people in the wine trade about opportunities and challenges in the wine trade. And as someone in the wine trade, you might go to the fair to do a deal with someone else in the wine trade which will impact your businesses in the wine trade.

But have we got our priorities straight?

Yesterday for the first time in the fair's history, consumers were invited into the inner sanctum of Excel, not to get drunk on all the free wine, but to be grilled by the trade on what they look for when buying wine.

The panel - consisting of a Merlot loathing 19 year old, a deal-loving "girl about town" who drinks with friends, a thirty-something "curious wine lover" and two housewives and mothers that do the weekly shop - were refreshingly honest about what factosrs sway them to buy a bottle. They want simple, stylish labels that include easy to understand descriptions of the wine, an attractive shaped bottle, a name and look that communicates sophistication to their friends, and above all a good price.

The four producers who submitted their wines for closer scrutiny were publically given frank, and sometimes damning, critiques of everything from label design, bottle shape, colour, name and price. If they were looking for honest opinions, they got it in spades.

Surely it's this kind of insight into the buying habits of consumers that the inward looking trade is crying out for? So where's the problem?

The problem is the inability of the wine trade to cease its conversations with the rest of the wine trade and spend a single hour listening to the very people who buy the end product. With only a handful of fairgoers in the audience, it was a disappointing turnout that could have serious consequences for the trade.

In contrast to the sparsely attended Consumer Question Time, Harpers' editor Richard Siddle popped along to a packed out social media seminar taking place at the exact same time. As the wine trade clamored to hear about how to engage with consumers in the virtual world of social media, in an adjacent room those very consumers were telling the audience that they would be put off by producers trying to communicate with them on Facebook and Twitter. Don't put Facebook or Twitter on your label, was one consumer's plea, "it's so naff!".

Naff it may be, but with only a smattering of the trade being forward thinking enough to attend the briefing and hear such views, these valuable insights have been largely ignored. Isn't it time we got our priorities right and started listening to the very people who will be the making, or the breaking, of the wine trade?