Challenge ahead for smaller wineries

Some of the country’s smaller wineries could face challenges in distribution deals, and potential...
Some of the country’s smaller wineries could face challenges in distribution deals, and potential buy-outs from larger estates. Pictured, a vineyard in Bannockburn, Central Otago. Photo: Viv Milsom
A caution has been thrown out to New Zealand’s smaller, domestic market wineries which might be finding it more difficult gaining access to distribution channels.

Westpac senior economist Anne Boniface said the industry in New Zealand had grown substantially in recent decades.

"The industry is heavily concentrated in Marlborough, which specialises in sauvignon blanc production", about three-quarters of the country’s wine production, by value, she said.

The New Zealand winemaking industry has an annual turnover of $2.5 billion and wine exports have doubled in the past decade to $1.7 billion per year, becoming the country’s sixth largest export by commodity.

Annual grape volumes have grown 423% since the turn of the century, and planted property has risen from 12,700ha to almost 34,000ha.

The $2.5 billion turnover takes in viticulture, harvesting, processing, ageing, bottling and distribution.

"Like other New Zealand primary product, exports form the backbone of the wine industry," Mrs Boniface said.

New Zealand wine had grown in popularity and its "New World" lighter-bodied wines had gained favour with consumers in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

"Exports to the US have grown particularly strongly in recent years," she said.

Importantly, the export market  was likely to underpin the fortunes of the industry in the future, she said.

In a separate report, Rabobank’s latest global wine quarterly, its senior wine and horticulture analyst Hayden Higgins said the large 2018 global harvest was starting to create a fundamental shift in the availability and pricing of wine.

"And this is set to have a profound impact on trends in 2019," Mr Higgins said.

From January to September last year, the US imported New Zealand wine to the value of $US330 million, ($NZ488.5 million) a 4% increase on the year before, and volumes were up 3%.

As a result of the large global crop, bulk wine prices had started to ease.

Prices for generic wines from Spain and Italy were already easing in anticipation of the greater availability which the 2018 harvest would provide. For New Zealand, Mr Higgins said in the 12 months to September 2018, wine exports remained flat, up just 0.4% in total volume.

Value for the period was up by a modest 2% in local currency terms, driven by a lift in the average value per litre. Despite a slight reduction in packaged-goods volumes, the overall value in New Zealand increased by  about 3%, with a slight increase in value per litre, he said.

Mrs Boniface said New Zealand’s wine sector faced many of the same challenges of other producers.

The New Zealand industry was a relatively small player in a large global market, accounting for a little over 1% of worldwide wine production.

New Zealand grape growers and winemakers had to be able to differentiate their product on a crowded international stage, a challenge made even more difficult as New Zealand wines tended to be a little more expensive than some competitors, she said.

The industry as a whole had invested heavily in marketing, which was critical for attracting the attention of independent distributors which provided access to large retail networks.

They were more likely to include a particular wine in their portfolios if it was well known.

"For larger firms that have their  own distributor network, this is less of a problem, but for those without, especially small wine firms producing limited volumes in New Zealand, gaining access to distribution channels is a major challenge," Mrs Boniface said.

In the future,  the divergence between limited opportunities in the domestic market, and the potential for big gains in the export market, looked set to drive further evolution in the sector.

That could threaten the survival of some, but presented huge opportunities for others, she said.

While small winemakers producing premium products were likely to remain much as they were at present, the large volume producers would compete by differentiating their products through various marketing and activities. In addition, expansion by some of those larger operators would allow them to reduce their costs of production.

"This could see a smaller number of boutique independent grape growers as well as fewer, larger, wineries," Mrs Boniface said.

One opportunity to differentiate products in the crowded marketplace was through exposing tourists to New Zealand wines.

Mrs Boniface said in 2017 there were just over 710,000 visitors to New Zealand wineries, "cellar door" tasting rooms and/or staying at vineyard accommodation. That was a relatively small proportion of about 3.7 million total visitors that year and the numbers had grown substantially in recent years.

"Over 210 wineries in New Zealand now offer a wine-tasting experience with many offering a range of activities, including tours and accommodation and food services," she said.

Other positives for the sector included  beer consumers in some countries now drinking more wine and spirits and also ageing populations in key markets boosting consumption, she said.

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