The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) announced the appointment of their first U.S.-based business development team last week. Based in Britain, WSET is the world’s largest provider of wine and spirits qualifications and posted an annual income of GBP 11.1 million ($14.85 million). Over the past year, WSET had 19,401 Britain candidates more than 11,000 U.S. candidates. Chief Executive Ian Harris talked to Wine Enthusiast about the expansion.
Why did you decide to act now?
The numbers of WSET candidates in the United States have risen to almost 11,500 this year from around 500 in 2001. The size, wealth and variety of the drinks sector shows high potential. Looking at the need and demand for knowledge and skills, we fully expect the U.S. to overtake the UK as WSET’s No. 1, English-speaking market within the next three years.
How will you publicize your presence?
Some 20% of our total marketing budget for WSET worldwide is allocated to promote courses in the U.S., spread across advertising in trade and consumer media. We will continue to host alumni events and develop seasonal campaigns. We will increase participation at industry trade fairs, hosting masterclasses that show how businesses have benefitted from working with us. Our graduates also constantly fly our flag. Their success speaks louder for WSET than anything else.
WSET courses cost between about $400 for an entry-level program to about $7,500 for an advanced course. How do the qualifications benefit those in the industry?
Training and education adds money to the bottom line. Our own UK-based research in the retail market showed that providing WSET education in combination with in-house and brand training increased profits significantly. One study showed WSET spirits education increased upselling by +16.9%. Also, 93% of businesses who offer WSET courses say in-house training has improved staff retention.
How will you reach prospective candidates?
By making contacts across wine and spirits companies a strategic objective. Approximately 70% of WSET candidates work in the trade, so employers are an access point. We are increasing the number of Approved Programme Providers (APPs) and working with existing APPs to increase the WSET programmes they offer. We have recently approved the Napa Valley Wine Academy and American Wine School to offer our Level 4 Diploma, increasing diploma centers in the U.S. by 28%.
Is there is a U.S.-specific element to these qualifications?
No. One of the advantages of WSET qualifications is that every student receives the same education wherever they are in the world. The global relevance of a WSET qualification is a selling point. Similarly, the course content provides students with a truly global perspective.
What role will digital tools play?
Digital tools are already an important resource. By 2020…we expect several thousand candidates in the USA to be using pure-digital programs to prepare for our level 1 and level 2 qualifications.