In the U.S., the wine and spirits industry continues to perform well. So well in fact, that the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) has dubbed its annual Convention and Exposition “So Hot, It’s Cool” to best sum up the state of the wine and spirits industry. Next month, WSWA heads to Grande Lakes Orlando, Fla. for its 70th convention that is on track to be the largest to date, according to the organization’s president and CEO, Craig Wolf, with potential to exceed 2,200 attendees. There is a lot packed into the three-day trade event slated for April 28 to 30, so Wolf shares some of the highlights and trends show-goers can expect to see.
Beverage World: What kind of turnout are you anticipating for the convention?
Craig Wolf: We are expecting a great turnout. The numbers we’ve seen so far have been tremendous; we are breaking early records. And that’s not surprising given the state of the industry where there has been so much innovation and creativity and so many new products.
BW: Among all of the new, which trends are you seeing prevail?
Wolf: The craft side of the business is just tremendous. Every day there seems to be a new craft spirit; we’ve seen it from vodkas to some of the darker spirits to rum and just tremendous growth. There are hundreds of craft distillers throughout the country and that shows no signs of stopping.
BW: How have you seen the industry respond to that trend?
Wolf: Wholesalers are taking a very close look at the growth and are responding to it directly. Some of our wholesalers have set up independent divisions to deal with the influx of new products. We expect to see a lot of craft distillers at the convention and we are looking forward to seeing who is going to break out and who is going to be the next big thing.
BW: What does the convention and exposition offer those craft distillers that will be exhibiting?
Wolf: These new entries can use the WSWA convention as a chance to put their products out there and let wholesalers see it. It’s their best chance to get to market.
BW: There are a lot of competitions scheduled. A new one is “Hoptails.” Could you tell us about that?
Wolf: WSWA’s Hoptails competition responds to and promotes a growing trend in the industry: bartenders and mixologists are not just relying on traditional spirits-based ingredients. They are using all tools in their flavor, taste and scent toolboxes to craft unique and innovative beverages. More and more, those drinks include a combination of craft beer and spirits ingredients, in the same way we see more and more cocktails mixed with wine as well. These cocktails are worthy of their own category in our contests and are likely to continue their growth in the marketplace.
BW: It seems craft distillers are following in the footsteps of craft brewers. Why are consumers responding so well to the craft trend on the spirits side?
Wolf: I think people like the local flavor. They like to see local product succeed and the quality is improving day to day. When any new trend starts, people get into it and they learn. There is a learning curve, but I think we are getting to the point where you are seeing the product of that learning curve finally coming to fruition.
BW: Are there any new products that stand out among the rest?
Wolf: We are going to have some rather interesting product rollouts this year that should generate some serious media attention. We can’t release that information yet because it’s still confidential, but that will be coming out in a couple weeks.
For more on the WSWA Convention & Exposition, visit wswaconvention.org.