What the wine trade can learn from 2016’s Aspen Food & Wine Classic Trends

Earlier this month, I had the absolute privilege to escape New York City and head to Colorado for the 34th annual Food + Wine Classic in Aspen. Not only did my eyes soak up marvelous mountain vistas, I also had the chance to sample scrumptious snacks and luscious libations. And as a marketing professional, it was also a sneak peek behind the curtain to see what’s new and exciting in the world of wine and food. With over 5,000 epicurean attendees, Danny Myer, CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group explains, “It’s where I find out what my customers will be drinking next year.” So with a wine glass in one hand and a camera in the other, I embarked on a gourmet journey to discover the undeniable trends from the 2016 Food + Wine Classic in Aspen.


Rosé Reigns with diverse audiences

We have already reported that rosé wines are a growing trend in the wine industry, and if you’ve been to a liquor store at all this season, you’ve surely seen more and more rosé lining the shelves. This was certainly the case at the Food + Wine Classic, where rosé wines were ubiquitous and all sorts of consumers approached the table asking to sample our rosés. Though the consumers were predominantly millennial females, it was clear that the audience for pink wines has expanded beyond female, beyond “young.” Men and women of all ages were curious and eager to sample.

Though rosés have so often been considered the most seasonal of all the wines, that trend has changed in the last year or two. Gone are the days of rosé wines making a brief appearance in the too-short time frame between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Instead, retailers are not only bringing in the wine earlier and earlier (with some now carrying rosés all year long), but retailers are also dedicating entire sections and committing valuable floor space to the blush beauties.

You may be thinking the wines are so popular simply because they are affordable. But actually rosé wines over $11/bottle were the fastest growing category in 2015. In fact, the average bottle price of rosé last year hovered just under $16/bottle, considered by several experts to be the ‘sweet spot’ in wine pricing.

Not just from Provence, not even just from France (though according to Beverage Media, France produces 30% of the world’s rosé supply) – rosé is produced all over the world. They call them rosados in Spain, rosatos in Italy, and American-made rosé wines are more and more abundant, helmed by the success of Sofia by Coppola.

And despite what you may anticipate, Beverage Media reports that equal numbers of males and females are consuming rosé wines in the U.S.  This balance means there are several options for diversifying the rosé drinking occasion. Ten years ago it would have been absurd to bring a bottle to a tailgate. But I suggest you try it this year and see how your friends respond. My bet would be that men and women alike are interested to at least give it a taste (if for no reason than to see what all the fuss is about).

If you market an imported wine, work with your suppliers to increase the window of availability. Encourage them to get their rosés on direct import containers as early as February, to be ready for the pre-Spring rush. Nurture your relationship with off premise retailers. Where legal, incentivize them to increase floor stacks and dedicate more shelf space to rosés.

Sparkling Wine

Another previously predicted trend that flourished at the Classic was the love for sparkling wines. From champagne to cava, consumers were crazed for bubbly options. Marketers are capitalizing on the occasion culture, reminding you to find celebration moments around you every day.

 According to Shanken News Daily, “the Champagne category is bubbling over in the U.S. market… the U.S. overtook the UK as Champagne’s top export market by value in 2015.” And people are choosing up. Instead of going for that under $10/bottle bubbly, the trend toward premiumization is boosting the value of Champagne’s sales.

Since Champagne only represents a small portion of the sparkling wine on the market, this is a great time to launch a bubbly.  The opportunity for growth is tremendous especially with Prosecco, a product whose growth has been considered “phenomenal” by the beverage experts at Shanken News. And according to Impact Databank, Prosecco has surpassed 4 million cases and has experienced over 22% growth in 2015. “In the past two years, Prosecco has advanced by nearly 1.5 million cases—meaning that its incremental gain has nearly matched overall Champagne volume in the U.S.”


Cocktail Culture

One of my favorite (daytime) parties at the Classic was the Republic National Distributing Co. (RNDC) Reception at the Limelight, directly across the street from the Grand Tasting Pavilion. (The beauty of the Aspen Classic, besides the spectacular vistas, is that everything is within walking distance if you stay in Aspen proper).

Besides serving a variety of sparkling wines (as per our last point), they also served up fun tiki cocktails, complete with take-home tiki glass souvenirs.

So why is one of the largest distributor houses in the U.S. serving up tiki cocktails at the granddaddy of all wine and food festivals? Because the beverage market loves rum right now. Let’s take a look at rum by the numbers, according Beverage Media’s June 2016 issue:

In 2015, 24.8 million cases of rum were sold, making it the third largest spirits category, behind vodka and whiskey, but ahead of tequila. This accounted for 11.5% of the total spirits volume and nearly 10% of all spirit revenue last year.

Rum is the perfect spirit for mixing into drinks and is found in so many of our iconic cocktails, from Mojitos to Daiquiris to Pina Colados and Cuba Libres. Beverage Media reports: “The resurgence of tiki bar culture is encouraging consumers to take a second look at the spirit, educating them on the differences among silver, dark and gold rums and how they often complement and contrast one another when they’re layered in the same drinks.”

So the next time you’re out and you see a tiki drink on the menu, what should you reach for? The Blue Hawaiian, The Zombie, The Mai Tai… each cocktail highlights different rums, so you just may have to try one of each.

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