Craig Wolf, president and chief executive of the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, maintains that these are the best of times to be “in the industry in the United States. It is the best marketplace for alcohol in the world. It is a place of opportunity.”
Wolf, a former prosecutor and counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, has been the head of WSWA for 11 years and has seen both the consolidation and the expansion of the distribution sector.
“Our numbers have actually risen…People always see all these mergers at the higher level, but what they don’t see are all the small guys coming in to fill gaps and take advantage of the opportunities with the innovation that is out there,” Wolf says. “So, the number of wholesalers that are active across the country has increased.”
He notes that the consumer has not suffered at all—yet. Despite all the mergers and consolidation over the last 10 to 15 years “it hasn’t affected the consumer because the number of SKUs has only grown over that period of time.”
Competition for Prime Shelf Space
But Wolf, a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, looks out at the landscape and says that “what’s going to affect the consumer is the retailer consolidation. Because then you’re going to have less shelf space. You’re going to have competition with private labels and less desire by the big-box [stores] to favor innovation, because they’re going to favor their private labels.”
A major in the U.S. Army Reserve, Wolf says, “We have an industry that is celebrated in this country. Unlike other places in the world, it is not under attack. We are accepted because we are a socially responsible industry. The innovation is incredible. The growth is great at the high-end and at the mid-level as well.”
He credits the “innovation that is out there” for the sector’s growth. From the craft brewers to the small winery that exploded, now “you have the crafts spirits. And that changes the dynamics for everyone. There are so many products on the market and so many choices for the consumer. It drives tremendous interest in our industry.
“It’s created an industry that is so full of diversity, so full of consumer choice and selection… that’s the kind of industry you want to be in,” Wolf says.