The South African wine industry’s future competitiveness will depend on the country’s ability to access new markets through government support, increase its productivity, maintain the local identity of its wines and maintain sound wine quality, says wine producer consultation organisation VinPro executive director Rico Basson.
As global trade flows have changed over the past two decades, supply chain logistics have had to evolve accordingly and developing the ability to ship wine in bulk has had increasing implications for the way in which the wine industry operates.
The significant rise in bulk wine shipments, as opposed to bottled wine shipments, was a result, to some extent, of how the world’s major wine import markets had evolved over the past decade, food and agribusiness financial services provider Rabobank stated in January.
In South Africa, bulk wine is quickly gaining market share of total South African wine exports, with bulk wine pricing and producer gross margins remain low, highlights the financial services provider.
Bulk Export Implications
In recent years, many of the imported wines consumed by major import markets such as Germany, the UK and the US, have been exported from the country of origin in bulk and packaged at the desti- nation market, says Basson.
The move from bottled to bulk wine exports have significantly impacted on the attribution of value along the supply chain. Instead of generating most of the revenue at the source of production, a larger share of the packaging value and wholesale margin is now captured in the destination market, he says.
This shift equates to more than $1-billion in yearly revenue being generated at the destination market rather than at the source of production, notes Rabobank.
However, in cases where bulk wine is exported from South Africa and packaged overseas, but sold as imported South African wine, the advantage is that the wine keeps its South African identity, says Basson.
Strategic decisions in terms of exporting bulk wine, such as setting up bottling plants in foreign countries, have been taken by South African wine producers. This is advantageous from an environmental and transportation perspective, as this can be financially profitable.
Nonprofit industry organisation Wines Of South Africa (Wosa) CEO Su Birch agrees, adding that the strategy to bottle wine in the destination country increases the competitiveness of exporters.
South Africa is located far from the main markets and expensive transport costs have a significant impact on the decision to export the wine, either bottled or in bulk, says Basson.
Further, the local cost of packaging material and the environmental footprint of bottling can also play a role in this decision, adds Birch.
Basson notes that the local industry remains focused on exporting quality products and retaining the South African identity of its wines.
However, selling bulk wine at more affordable prices has often been a necessity for many producers, as wine has been in abundant supply globally between 2004 and 2010, driven first by a series of large global harvests that started in 2004 and then by declining consumption during the global recession that started in 2008.
For a brand owner in this situation, shipping wine in bulk reduces transportation, glass and bottling costs, import duties, working capital and even foreign exchange exposure, owing to the cost of packaging being conducted in the destination market currency, notes Rabobank.
Meanwhile, Basson says there have been several bulk export contracts at good profit margins for new developing wine markets, like Russia.
However, the negative effects of bulk wine exports are the job losses in the up-and downstream industries and its effect on the economy. This also results in lower foreign revenue earnings, as bulk exports have a lower total value than that of the packaged product.
The South African wine industry loses about 107 jobs for every ten-million litres of bulk rather than bottled wine exported, says Birch.
Basson states that this is a concern, as the wine industry is one of South African agriculture’s largest employers with 65 000 farm and cellar workers and an additional 205 000 jobs created through- out the value chain.
The sector’s ability to retain and fulfil its role of employment, however, will largely be driven by financial profitability and revenue growth through sales and a partnership with government through the creation of a friendlier regulatory environment.
“The trend to export in bulk, although continuing at a lower rate, will most likely continue into the future and will be part of the global export strategy of wine- producing countries.
“The local industry must ensure that it partners with government to ensure market development through free trade agreements, local capital expenditure programmes, a more friendly legislative environment, labour law, excise duties and tax,” says Basson.
Further, Wosa affirms government’s acknowledgement of the threat of bulk wine sales on the industry and welcomes its support and initiatives to assist the industry to be more competitive and profitable, adding more value and jobs.
To reduce the impact of bulk wine exports, Cabinet has decided to embark on numerous interventions.
Engineering News reported in August that former Cabinet spokesperson Jimmy Manyisaid it planned to implement a five-year strategy to assist in placing the industry on a sustainable growth trajectory, a programme to reduce the environ- mental cost of producing wine in South Africa and a consumer awareness programme to improve consumers’ under- standing of the holistic environmental indicators.
Other steps taken by Cabinet include in-depth cross-sectoral research and analysis of the wine value chain, engage- ment with the wine and packaging industries to develop innovative, sustainable packaging solutions and initiatives to assist the industry in accelerating export market diversification.
Wosa says that, to stay cost competitive, bulk wine exports – which totalled 172.6-million litres in 2011 out of a total of 357.4-million litres exported – are a means to retain South African wine pro- ducers’ competitiveness and that the solution lies in continuing to diversify into new markets, such as in the rest of Africa, the US and especially in Asia, where the country can sell more premium wine.