Allegrini 2018

“Wine distribution will change”, said Meregalli, who has launched e-commerce for Ho.Re.Ca

Marcello Meregalli: “Agents are becoming consultants and trainers, orders will be on the web. Some small signs of recovery”
Marcello Meregalli, head of the Meregalli group

During lockdown, e-commerce has been one of the preferred channels keeping fans and wineries in contact with each other. Technology will play a more central role in the future, among professionals as well. Plus, the distribution world will need to partially change, too. Agents will continue to be the contact point between wine bars, restaurants and distributors, but they will have a different role. They will become consultants and trainers, and be more like “brand ambassadors”, rather than “collectors of orders”, which instead can be safely placed on the internet. This is Meregalli Group’s vision, the historic company founded in 1856 in Monza and today leader in the distribution of wine & spirits in Italy, which works with brands such as Tenuta San Guido, Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Argiolas, Di Majo Norante, Oddero , Speri, Badia a Coltibuono, Bastianich, Boscarelli, Cottanera and Agripunica, to name a few of the Italians, and also companies such as Ayala, Bollinger, Chateau d’Yquem, Penfolds and Beringer, to name a few foreign ones. The group is getting ready to launch the first e-commerce for Ho.Re.Ca, or the on market channel, which will be both a platform for wine orders and for market analysis, available to users. As mentioned, however, it will not bypass the link in the chain, which is the agents, who will continue to receive their commission. Marcello Meregalli explained to WineNews, “the new Meregalli institutional website will start the week of June 15th, including all communication, product data sheets and so on, and also the on market area for our customers, where they will be able to place orders, look at statistics of what they have bought and sold, open invoices, shipment tracking, and so on. Plus, each user will be able to see what types of wine our other customers are buying and selling in the area near them, and much more, and then decide whether to follow a certain trend, or not. There will also be a sort of predictive sales analysis; i.e., our system will let the customer know that, for example, the previous year she placed a large order of a certain wine or that a certain producer’s wine sold very well, and will offer it to her again, maybe with a special discount”.
In other words, it will be a small, but significant technological revolution, which will redesign the role of the agent. “The idea, in our vision,” Meregalli explained, “is that the agent will be free to be more a consultant, do PR, special evenings, and train staff in restaurants and hotels, rather than only being the one who signs the classic contract. The agent will still be a seller, but also a brand ambassador, and will need time to do so by being free from the role of signing orders and contracts, which will instead, be on the web. It is an important change because more young people are working in restaurants and wine bars and they are already familiar with tools like these. The agents category must be protected and definitely cannot be canceled, because they will always be the experts in their areas, and will therefore keep receiving their commissions on orders”.
Meregalli will also extend this concept to a project dedicated to private individuals, which should be starting in September 2020. It will put hundreds of wine shops all over Italy online, while still maintaining their margins on sales.
The system Meregalli has designed for the on market channel will have another characteristic. “We alone will totally manage logistics, through our warehouse and using the only courier we work with, which is Arco Trasporti. Not everything will be completely automatic, though, meaning that if the person placing an order is up to date with payments, it will go directly to logistics through the portal. So, if you place an order at 10 in the morning, the wine will be sent out in the afternoon. On the other hand, if the customer is slightly or extremely behind in payments, the order goes directly to the administration offices, which will decide how to proceed. Human intervention is always and in any case essential, because with so many different customers and so many different cases, one cannot trust everything to the computer”.
It is quite clear that the effects of the pandemic will also change the world of wine distribution, perhaps speeding up procedures previously underway, as many sectors have done. “Before we said that service was important, while today it becomes fundamental, as it means flexibility on every level, from management to online, to the marketing office that sends material for communication and events. In this phase, many companies are understandably suffering after 3 months of closure, so it is imperative to meet them halfway and help them”, explained Meregalli, “ and, it is necessary to have management ready to act and be flexible. In the future, trends will undoubtedly change much more quickly, and instead of having wine stocks, restaurateurs will change the wines that do not sell at a faster rate, while people will place smaller orders, but probably more often”.
This is why this innovative tool has come up, even though it is starting in a very challenging moment for Italian restaurants and consequently, for wine. A few timid signs of recovery are beginning to show. “Up until now, restaurants and wineries are still selling their stocks, of course. At the beginning of the week, 85% of our customers had reopened, and we will be close”, emphasized Meregalli, “to 100% by the middle of the month. Unfortunately, 1.4% will not reopen at all, as they were having problems before Covid-19, and will not be able to start up again. Restaurants are a bit more tranquil because they have the possibility of using open spaces, and luckily it seems that people are going out to eat, which was the greatest unknown. Considering just wine, in the last ten days of May when many places were not open, turnover was -12% compared to 2019, which, however, was a record-breaking year. Given the situation, it is a good sign, almost a return to normal, and signals that things are starting to move. In this phase, the Italian product is much better than the foreign one, especially the top brands and well-known products, because right now we prefer to play it safe on wines, wineries and territories that don’t need to be narrated and are self-explanatory. Then, maybe in three months’ time, we will do more research even on lesser known products”.

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