Allegrini 2018

Cristina Mariani-May: tougher competition in the USA, strong brands and quality are needed

At WineNews the CEO of Banfi Vintners, which focuses on the premium sector, the most profitable, and looks to the future between merger and expansion
Cristina Mariani-May, CEO of Banfi Vintners

From the U.S. market, the point of reference for the export of Italian wine, in 2018 came a clear signal: consumption is holding up, average spending is growing, but competition is increasing, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to make its way and defend their spaces. Even for a historical big name in import and distribution such as Banfi Vintners, who after the “separation” from Cantine Riunite-Giv, a 52-year partnership, looks to the future by focusing on the most profitable segment, that of premium labels, not by chance the beating heart of the production branch of the Italian-American group, Castello Banfi, which in the territory of Brunello di Montalcino counts on more than 900 hectares of vineyards.
The current state of the art of the U.S. market, as Cristina Mariani-May, CEO of Banfi Vintners,
tells to WineNews, “on the one hand there are more labels from every corner of the world, and on the other hand there are fewer players between importers and distributors (who for years have tended to merge and control ever-larger market shares, ed.), on a model that is similar to the English one, including the creation of a large number of private labels.
It is becoming more difficult to make one’s own brands known to the general public, and it becomes important - explains Cristina Mariani-May - to have a partnership with the sales network, but also to have authentic brands, able to communicate stories and sustainability and, of course, to have high quality wines. Wines under 10 dollars suffer a lot, above that range they grow more, so there is certainly a movement towards greater quality and higher prices, and even our strategy, like Banfi USA, follows this trend, focusing attention on that segment.

Obviously - adds the CEO of Banfi Vintners - it will be essential to support the right communication, using right messages to tell our story, including through social media, so that consumers can understand the value of our brand”.
In this panorama, there is obviously a certain curiosity about the next steps of the Banfi Oltreoceano group, with different paths to take, from the merger to the expansion of the portfolio, both with Italian labels and with labels from other countries. In this regard, Cristina Mariani-May continues, “Banfi has a bright future ahead of it. At this moment we are looking at the next step, with Banfi Vintners focusing on a portfolio of fine wines.
It’s an exciting step, we decided with Riunite and GIV, that it was time to follow different directions, and now we are very busy and focused on the next steps of our strategy, which currently revolves around the highest price brands. In the future, we are still considering which path to take, whether to welcome a US partner, which is a possibility, or whether to remain independent and expand the number of brands in the portfolio. In short, we still have to think, at least for a few more months, before deciding on the next step.
“It’s a moment of passage - says the CEO of Banfi Vintners - that will not last long, but not always you can predict everything accurately, of course, next year there will be changes. We are studying the different opportunities, Banfi is a strong company, whose importance as an importer and distributor is recognized worldwide. Now it’s a matter of considering the opportunities that will arise to include other Italian wines in the portfolio, and also how to keep the offer in balance with labels from other countries, a very important aspect on the U.S. market”.
Not only commercial dynamics, however, because the production aspect remains just as fundamental, and also the growth. “As for the possibility of acquiring new companies, in the future, there is always the possibility, but not at the moment, because we have other priorities. But the potential to invest, grow and expand still exists and the future - reassures Cristina Mariani-May - from this point of view looks brilliant. Today, however, we want to focus on Castello Banfi, a global brand, and on what it represents”.

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