No-one who wandered the halls at this week’s Prowein fair and remembers last year’s London International Wine Fair (LIWF) can have failed to have noticed the difference between these two events. For anyone who has been to neither, just imagine the contrast between New York and Norwich or Lille and you will have a pretty fair idea. Prowein is huge and growing huger (there’s a long waiting list and two more halls will open next year), while London is parochial and shrinking. PLB, one of the UK’s biggest wholesalers has lived up to its threat and dropped out and today brings news that New Zealand will not have a national stand.

I have to declare a pair of interests. I chair the LIWF Conference and expect it to be a great event and I am also one of the presenters at the Meininger’s International Conference that immediately precedes Prowein. As a publisher, Meininger is also involved with the Dusseldorf event, but I personally have an emotional relationship with the one in the UK. I remember when it consisted of a few tables in a room above a department store on a London High Street.
But the UK wine trade has changed and the LIWF no longer has a reason to exist in its traditional and current form. Stand space is expensive, there are too few key buyers and nobody enjoys the journey to Docklands. The possibility of meeting lots of sommeliers and owners of independent retailers is always welcome, obviously, but the amount of wine any of these can buy is limited and the cost per stand visitor is high. (As one former exhibitor said “I could give each of the useful people I see a Rolex and still be in pocket!”).
The organisers talk about introducing changes, but nothing leads me to believe that these will be radical, and any suggestion of accommodating those dirty, ignorant, annoying human beings known as consumers seems to be firmly excluded from the agenda.
The writing is not just on the wall, it’s in glaring neon. The buyers from the major UK retail chains – and a fair few smaller companies were all in Dusseldorf (many for the first time) waxing lyrical about the appeal of the show and its efficiency. Several UK distributors had stands…
If the LIWF organisers and the committee that advises them are ready for some genuinely lateral thinking, their event – or a version of it – could survive. If not, someone may soon be reading the LIWF last rites.

  1. Cannot agree with you more. As an independent wine merchant I used to attend for two days every year. LIWF seems to have lost its way over the last couple of years and I have been unable to justify travelling from Manchester, losing two days in the office/warehouse and paying a lot for hotel and subsistence just to say hello to our suppliers, as nice as they are. Can't see us going again in the future. Shame really

  2. I totally agree, albeit rather sadly. When I was buying, it was hard enough seeing all our own suppliers for meetings. I never actually got to taste much at all! The other generics proved much more useful both for benchmarking and finding new wines.

  3. Dominic Lombart commented (via Facebook):
    The reason I have stopped going is the date is wrong as buyers and deciders have done there buying making it a bad investment. Examples of good shows and there dates would be SITT & Prowein which are a dates that are very similiar.

  4. John Bojanowski commented (via facebook)
    Robert, you could replace LIWF with Vinisud and write the same article. Hollowed out by OFF events and up against Millesime Bio (3wks before) and Prowein (3wks after), the Big South Of France Event lost its way this year (and was already going down last time). WE won't do it again, at this price (and this very complex organization). Millesime Bio has it just right–a grower, a table, bottles, glasses and a spitbucket. All the rest just empties our pockets and weighs down our souls.

  5. Interesting article Robert. My company pulled out of LIWF a few years ago. The investment and time to visit individual buyers face to face in their own office/tasting room is far more rewarding. There seem to be too many tastings and wine shows which have lost their 'raison d'etre'.

  6. Interesting point Joseph! Who would have thought this only 5 years ago. Being involved in Spain´s front-line wine trade show FENAVIN, it really makes one think about a re-definition of these kind of events, which on the other hand are so important for the industry. New trade show models, smaller shows, larger more international shows, alternative financing? Many question marks here!
    Katarina Holmér

  7. Thanks for that Joseph – I had heard a couple of comments along the lines of what you have written. We were planning to visit the LIWF from NZ this year, but I think we might give it a miss based on current feedback – A shame, I really did enjoy attending this event several years ago.

    On that note, does anyone have anything to say about Vinexpo in HK?



  8. Juliette, HK will be HUGE! On two floors and with a long waiting list.
    There were very few Asians at Prowein; they'll all be in HK.

    I'm sorry to hear you may not be coming to LIWF. It's NOT dead, but not what it was,

  9. I've been thinking about getting a stand at the LIWF this year. I'm a small scale agent, based in France, representing a handful of quality Rhone Valley producers. With Inter Rhone pulling out this year and the very real fact that it's too late for buyers I might give it a miss…

    On top of that, the emphasis for me is more on quality than price and price seems to be the most important thing for the UK market… perhaps I should target my sales elsewhere…

  10. Paul… I really don't want to be seen as having deterred anyone from participating in this year's LIWF. I'm not backtracking on what I said about the event, but it does still attract a good range of on- and off-trade buyers.

    On the other hand… I have huge respect for Olivier and the team at InterRhone and for their judgement.

  11. From Harpers Wine & Spirit

    New Zealand pulls out of LIWF
    Written by Gemma McKenna, from Prowein in Dusseldorf
    Tuesday, 06 March 2012 15:39
    New Zealand Winegrowers has pulled out of London International Wine Fair – but organisers insist it is no reflection of how Kiwi wines are performing in the UK.

    David Cox, European director at New Zealand Winegrowers said producers were finding it too difficult to justify the investment.

    But Cox didn't rule out a return to the show in 2013: “At this point it's a one-year break.”

    He said he was hoping that fair organisers Brintex could recruit the “right people” to attend the show, then producers would be keener to make the investment.

    Last year Cox booked stand space for 25 producers, but in the end only 11 took a space.

    “That was really hard to take on the chin,” he said. But he was keen to point out there is “no question” that absence from LIWF was a sign of “stagnation or taking the foot off the pedal in the UK” to focus on other markets.

    The latest Nielsen statistics show that New Zealand wines grew 4% year on year to the end of December, and up 9% in value.

    Brent Marris, proprietor and winemaker at New Zealand's Marisco Vineyards, which makes the Ned wines, said he was “disappointed” that the generic body would not have a stand. But he added that he understood that “if there's not enough support you can't put a stand up.” He said that while Prowein was a good show, it's “different” and “couldn't replace London”.

  12. Response to Harpers piece from Damian Wilson

    Interesting to note. A sad outcome for we Antipodean ex-pats living on continental Europe who count down the days to make the acquaintance of many of the wine sectors market pioneers.

    Speaking with organisers at the A+ stand today, I asked the specific question of why would a producer choose Prowein or the LIWF over each other.

    The response might provide some insight:

    “LIWF is very UK oriented, whilst Prowein has a much more diverse array of nationalities and agents”

    Far be it for me to say, but I wonder if the UK market's famous price sensitivity has finally worn through on (some) producers?

  13. Robert, an interesting piece. May I take a moment to fight the corner for the Fair?

    Yes, Prowein is much bigger than LIWF (not in a small way due to the many thousands of German nationals involved in wine production and export taking part) and with their 50,000 – 60,000 wines it's an impressive event without question.

    But with LIWF offering a mere 20,000, does that scale differentiator really make such an impact to the buying visitor? The UK market is tough, but wonderfully diverse; I believe it's reflected in the Fair, and that makes for an extremely attractive event for buyers to attend.

    The 2011 event saw the third busiest LIWF in its history – our figures are independently audited too, something I don't believe our continental cousins are obliged to do. 3,000 ontrade, 4,000 retail and off trade visitors, 3,500 international visitors and 4,000 importers, press, and relevant trade tasted wines from over 1000 exhibitors last year at ExCeL. To put that in perspective it's still one of the largest trade events of ANY industry running in the UK.

    Exhibitors come and go, that's just the way it is, but PLB was a particular disappointment as they reported back (on the record) a succesful event last year. But for visiting buyers, LIWF offers something quite unique that rises above the inclusion, or not, of certain giant individual companies.

    Last year, I spent time with the buying teams from Systembolaget to Waitrose, to Naked Wines to leading sommeliers, and without fail, two points return again and again:

    The mini events, seminars, debates and other sessions taking place throughout LIWF are hugely impressive and popular, and, for many, reason enough to keep attending. Of course those buyers taking in a seminar are also spending time visiting stands. Secondly, the UK is seen as a true innovator in the world wine market. Trends set here will often appear in the US some years later (thanks to Wine Intelliegence who reported on this last year) and the lack of host country bias towards wines from a particular producing region, make for a fascinating showcase here in glorious London, where the opportunity to see, talk, taste, smell and hear all about it is hugely valued.

    2012 alone will see several new initiatives take place at the Fair: the International Wine Challenge Discovery Tasting, which will showcase wines which have entered the IWC and are seeking importers; the Independent Retailers Business Lounge in association with Off Licence News; The Small Independents Pavilion designed to attract buyers looking for niche importers; the LIWF Matchmaker tool; the finals of the UK Sommelier of the Year and a dedicated On-trade Theatre.

    Maybe we are wrong to build our business on the needs of visiting buyers, but we can, and will, deliver an audience in May with pockets stretching to billions in buying power. How exhibitors choose to tap into the potential walking onto their stands is entirely up to them, but for every tale of “LIWF's not working for me”, I can site many who believe the precise opposite, and flourish as a direct result of exhibiting.

    I hope readers will ask themselves whether the UK should have its own world-class wine trade event running in London, or not. Maybe we all should go to Germany to put together the deals and make the business connections that will shape our industry for the future? I would like to think the answer to that question is no.

    We may not be New York, but I believe we're listening, innovating, adapting and changing for the better… I didn't know Norwich offered such excitement, I really must visit!

  14. Thank you Will, I'm glad you took the opportunity to respond and I appreciate the time you have given to it. Others will judge for themselves, but I suspect that the list of 2012 initiatives will fall short of solving the problems many have raised. The market is changing rapidly. Today, the US is tending to lead as well as follow (we are only about to get onto the Moscato wave that has already been hugely successful on the other side of the Atlantic) and there is no God-given reason why London should retain its role. We may still have a London Book Fair, but UK publishers do most of their major deals in Frankfurt. I would hate to see London become more and more of a backwater and repeat my view that much more radical changes are called for. Losing PLB is one thing; losing New Zealand and the Rhone is another. Time will tell whether the current model, or an amended version of it will be sustainable

  15. I like the comment about Millesieme Bio and its simplicity. Indigo (where I work) is part of the Dirty Dozen, a collective of small importers bored by large scale fairs and who wanted to just open some bottles and let the wines, rather than the large marketing budgets, do the talking. It seemed to work well. It is a real shame for the UK trade, but, personally speaking, as soon as I enter LIWF, I want to leave again. It just feels corporate, searching for gimmicks and souless.

  16. Having been been involved in pan European trade shows in another sector, are European events cheaper for exhibitors than London events ?

    From my experience, the London events carry a substantial premium which cannot always be justified. It's also worth noting that many local governments in Europe sponsor or provide cheaper facilities for organisers because of the business tourism … does London ?

  17. Hi Robert – a big discussion the last week and I chatted to James Murray at The Benevolent Ball last night. My views as an exhibitor at the show are as follows:-
    1. Why not start on a Sunday – Prowein does. It gives Indies (who are very important) and sommeliers/restaurant owners the option to come and taste without taking days out of work they can't afford to/are not allowed to.
    2. Most grocery buyers know what they are buying by May for the rest of the year – yes ok a few bits and bobs extra, but…
    3. I'm a big believer in the fact that there should be tickets/consumer tasting – as we discussed – this offsets the cost of the stands somewhat which are very high – however, Prowein is not cheap either.
    4. We went to Prowein – the quality of people, the amount of new business we got, the amount of new opportunities we got, as well as taking on new suppliers, was inspiring. It's not whistles and bells as I said to James – it's the way the world goes – cycles – right now, it's best that it's Prowein – we might all be off to China next year etc.
    5. James asked the trade about a consumer tasting as well as starting on a Sunday. People said no – which is nonsense – so either people are just lazy and not giving feedback or I don't know really.
    6. More in innovation is needed at the LIWSF – more speakers/events from folks outside the wine industry – more night events that are both interesting and fun, not just another importer party – combine them.
    7.Get Chinese buyers/American buyers out to London – it's a fantastic city and there is an opportunity for getting it right if there can be changes
    8. The location is a big pain in the bottom – we all agree. More research should be done – warehouses etc etc/ Battersea/slightly outside London itself and so on
    9. I agree with what PLB did. They spent the money wisely on a roadshow that is part of a bigger strategy and they spent money on something that will generate financial results…. Taking wine out to people instead of expecting them to come to you….
    10. I would look at talks/fun events being in the centre of the hall rather than hidden away in rooms – most of us can't leave our stands to listen to talks that actually we would like to go to.
    11. What about a stand totally dedicated to Innovation – a biig stand – we all enter with one product and the best wins something.

    There are so many ideas/things we could do – but it's now or never. That I do agree.

  18. Thank you Cat(herine). There is so much goodwill around that it should be possible to metamorphose the fair into a sustainable event. But it will take bravery. Saying no to Sunday and the public is not a great start.

  19. As one of the companies mentioned in Robert Joseph's blog on LIWF , as well as Will’s riposte, Adam Wyartt, Head of Strategy comments (via email) as follows:
    “It is indeed true PLB have had several highly successful years at LIWF which helped us achieve some key objectives, but the decision not to attend in 2012 has been taken for purely strategic reasons.

    LIWF is a significant investment in terms of monetary value and resourcing. Each year we review our activity in the trade and align it to our supplier partner and company objectives – and for 2012 we have decided not to attend the trade fair because we are focusing our event investment differently: for example, last month we launched our first series of Regional Trade Tastings for our specialist and on-trade customers as we develop our offering in these channels.

    Such a review will take place each year and at that time we will identify the needs of PLB, our Supplier partners and of course our customers, and our activity spend will be allocated to meet these.”

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