Allegrini 2024

Florida, the U.S. “Sunshine state”, offering many growth opportunities for Italian wine

Focus “Wine2Wine”: numbers from a state where catering is worth $70 billion and has 47,000 restaurants (of which 2,322 are Italian)
Miami, one of Florida’s iconic cities (ph: Wikipedia)

“A bad day in Florida is still better than a good day anywhere else”: an American adage that describes, in a way, the reputation of one of the United States that, for Italian wine, can still give great satisfaction: it is one of the fastest growing areas of the States, not only in terms of population, but also in terms of wine consumption. The Miami metropolitan area alone, a vibrant city, major tourist destination and cultural crossroads, has 6 million people. Florida is the second-largest wine consuming state in the U.S., with 305.5 million liters, but per capita consumption - 2.12 liters per person per year, ranking 11th in the states - has wide room for growth. Detailing the cross-section of the sunniest state in the U.S. to “Wine2Wine” is Erin DeMara, a 29-year wine and restaurant professional who works at 1821 Fine Wine & Spirits, an importer specializing on Italy in Florida.
“Restaurants are a driving force in Florida’s economy”, explained Erin DeMara, “the restaurant business is worth $69.4 billion. It creates thousands of jobs, supports professional growth and plays a vital role in the state’s economy”. A few numbers illustrate its weight better than words. There are more than 47,000 eating and drinking establishments, employing more than one million workers - 1,032,400 to be precise - or 11% of employment, and are estimated to grow by 17.7 % by 2030. There is an important presence of Italian restaurants (2,322), those specializing in seafood (2,554) and meat (1,115), and a measure of their quality is given by the number of excellent ones: 19 boast Michelin stars and 271 have been awarded by “Wine Spectator”, for their wine list. Also important are the numbers for wine and liquor, with 2,124 stores, 50 distributors (5 of the top 10 in the United States), 494 beverage distributors, and 2,317 registered importers. And this restaurant hypertrophy can be explained by one of the stereotypes about this state: the “Sunshine State” is a destination for many retirees who move there for the climate and the tax breaks. A category that loves to eat out and consume wine. Even consumption is subject to seasonal fluctuations depending on whether or not there are a good number of these who come from New Yok and other big cities, who, while residing in Florida, make a sort of commute to their places of origin.
“From interviews I conducted”, Erin DeMar continued, “interesting trends emerged. In Italian establishments, Belpaese wine sales are growing 8% year-over-year. Tuscany dominates sales of reds, but whites are growing, particularly Falanghina and Vermentino, and three new labels of Grillo have recently entered the market. Customers are willing to try new whites around $15 instead of continuing to buy more Pinot Grigio. For importers and distributors for Italy, sales are up 25% year-over-year. Pinot Grigio, Chianti, and Prosecco are best-sellers, along with Sangue di Giuda dell'Oltrepò Pavese, which, like other sweet wines, is doing well in Central and North Florida. Strong sales growth in Vermentino and Grillo, while Montepulciano and Pecorino are down. For wines from Sicily and Sardinia, demand is up. The point, however, is to make Italian wines available. TV reports, articles ... dedicated to Italy and trips to your country, at the top of destinations along with France, greatly influence demand for Italian wine. Italy is a romantic and aspirational destination, and when tourists return home they want to find it in wine as well”.
Again, the numbers substantiate the claims. In the summer of 2023 (compared to 2022) Americans’ travel to Europe increased by 55%, after a 600% growth from 2021 to 2022. The equivalent in value in 2019 was 6 billion euros for 6.1 million Americans and, in the third quarter of 2022, 2.1 billion euros for 4.4 million. “Italy”, DeMar stressed, “is the No. 1 destination for Empty Nesters (parents left alone after their children leave home, ed.) with high spending power”.
However, there are several obstacles that wine must overcome to grow in Florida. “In addition to being difficult to enter the U.S. import system”, explained the American expert, “you have to find interlocutors appropriate to your business size. Operators do not buy unfamiliar wines, that is, only well-known wine is sold, and therefore Italy is underrepresented in Florida. More incisive and prolonged promotion and marketing actions are needed in this state to achieve good results, and they must also involve young people. Producer trips to the U.S. with single stops in different states are not very effective. In order to “take root” in Florida, I recommend dedicating to promotional actions in all important cities. Florida is much more than Mickey Mouse and Miami Beach. The cultures, demographics and markets are as varied as they are far apart, ranging from the Latin-influenced metropolis of Miami to Orlando and Disney World in the heart of the state to the Panhandle Riviera, which even follows a different time zone”. “Successful business in Florida requires”, Erin DeMara concluded, “the right combination of product, price and representation. There are multiple channels of opportunity for large and small producers, and by devoting time and attention, a return on investment is possible”.

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