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.