We will come out better, we said a year ago, at the beginning of the pandemic that plunged Italy and the world into the worst economic and social crisis since the Second World War. We are getting out of it, with difficulty. If it gets better or worse, we’ll see. For sure, we will come out changed, from many points of view. On the one hand, the need to respond to dynamics distorted by Covid-19, on the other hand, new possibilities, born of the crisis, to be seized in order to resist and rethink. A little bit what, in the world of wine distributors, among the most affected in the sector due to the closure of the horeca, the Meregalli Group, one of the most important and historic wine distributors in Italy, has done. Which, in 2020, was able to anticipate the consumption logics that are shaped according to the restrictions we are experiencing, because it is precisely in times of difficulty that opportunities are hidden. How? Responding to the decline in on trade by focusing on off trade, already under development, which became essential over the course of the year.
“The distribution, in the end, came out better than the individual producers. Among the members of the Excellence Club – which brings together the country’s 18 main wine distributors – there were no heavy drops in turnover. At first there was no liquidity, true, and no one knew how to get out of it. But then we explored and found new ways, broadening our horizons. Thus, last year we closed with a loss of -9%, still doing better than many large producers, who have often recorded double-digit drops ”, Marcello Meregalli, at the helm of the Meregalli Group, tells WineNews. “The start of 2021, on the other hand, was really good: we went even better than 2019 in this first quarter”.
Important results, which give hope for an entire sector, born from original and strategic decisions, which involved every aspect of the work. “At the beginning of the crisis we made a series of courses for agents, to enable them to do tele consultancy and create broadcasts with restaurants and wine bars. And then we immediately made ourselves available to our customers: every time a new government decision came out, even before the Decree, our accountant was already able to give us the Excel with the guidelines to support our customers under every point of view. This meant that they saw us as a reliable partner, not just with a supplier “, underlines Marcello Meregalli. “We had a big meeting with the agents on Zoom, where we asked them how they envisioned their future. We are building businesses to change the way they work, and this has been of great help to us ”.
With the restaurants and bars closed, it was the wine bars that took off. “Our two physicists have done, and are still doing, insane figures. Another interesting category, which many have underestimated, is what we have called “gourmands”, that is small delis, but also fruit and vegetables and quality butchers, previously almost non-existent, but which have exceeded 4 million euros. revenue. Those who ate only in the starred and bought wine exclusively in the wine bars of the center, found themselves looking for quality everywhere “, Marcello Meregalli explains again.
Which, then, resizes the scope of the online boom, “Which has doubled its turnover, but we looked after it well even before. It certainly pushed many, especially wine bars, to build a small e-shop: just give people the opportunity to buy online and people do it “. The result of all these choices, Marcello Meregalli continues, is a very different composition of the sales channels. “In 2019 for the Meregalli Group, excluding foreign countries, horeca was worth 40%, in 2020 22%, to date, in the first quarter, just 13%. 86% of the turnover, therefore, is made by something else, mainly wine shops and private individuals, both customers and direct sales. There is an interesting category, which we could define as “captains of industry”, that is, high spenders who are very passionate, who in normal times organize 5-6 business events a year with great wines, and who this year bought instead to gifts or for oneself. They have important wineries and invest every year, for their first and second homes, much more than the average of many restaurants ”.
Speaking of which, Marcello Meregalli concludes, “We are doing everything to support them. We have three million euros to collect from catering, but it is right to do everything to give breath to the sector. Also because it is in restaurants that a wine becomes important, guides and influencers are not enough. Catering has a fundamental role and we must safeguard it. In this year, however, we also realized how much better we can work with restaurateurs too. We have adopted a Crm system, and in our sector we are among the very few, and opened an e-shop channel dedicated to horeca, in April 2020, to allow our agents to better manage their time: it is useless to travel 30 kilometers to an order of 30 bottles of Prosecco. You can do it very well online, and the agent still takes the commission. In this way, time is freed up for the heart of this work, which is in the reports, in the annual contracts and, above all, in the promotion ”.
Focus – The financial statements of the Meregalli Group
Compared to 2019, year in full swing and record year, in 2020 – says the Meregalli Group – there was a slight decrease in turnover, despite being higher than the turnover of 2018. We can, therefore, consider 2020 a positive year, which, in ordinary circumstances, it would certainly have exceeded all expectations, with an overall reduction of 9% on total turnover. The loss of 30% of the turnover of the on trade channel (hotels, restaurants, catering) is matched by the + 6% growth of wine shops, wholesalers, Ggo and e-commerce, but also the + 6% of companies and individuals in the period November- December 2020.
2021, for the Meregalli Group, led by Marcello Meregalli, opened with a positive trend: in the first quarter it recorded a + 51% over the same period of 2020 (for the companies Meregalli Wines, Meregalli Spirits and Visconti 43). Constant monitoring is envisaged with consequent customization of the service, to facilitate the reference customers, ie the horeca channel. The next interventions also include an improvement in the receptivity of the offices, with specific areas dedicated to visits for customers both in the logistics and in the historic headquarters of the Meregalli Group, the strengthening of logistics capacities, with consequent optimization of delivery times and methods, the development of the product portfolio, especially for the newborn Visconti43, always looking for Italian excellence, thanks to an organized and widespread distribution.
Also in sight is the strengthening of the digital area of the Meregalli Group through the consolidation of the use of Crm – customer relationship management – aimed at the Horeca channel, the constant monitoring and development of the online platform meregalli.com to satisfy new purchasing methods, aimed above all at the new generations who approach the Horeca world, the promotion and implementation of the MeregalliPremium.it website aimed at private customers, but built to protect the entire supply chain in the wine world. And then, there is the “Green Focus”, an important program for a conversion towards an increasingly eco-friendly approach: greater use of vehicles with electric or hybrid motors, “plastic free” packaging materials, an increase in digital technology at the expense of of paper, planting of trees at Tenuta Fertuna to reduce CO2 emissions in the atmosphere and a constant updating of working processes in respect of the environment, in addition to the subsidy of projects in favor of the environment promoted by non-profit organizations.
“A year that starts uphill, we will see the consolidation of purchasing and consumption habits that have grown in 2020, we believe that many of the habits adopted by the consumer during these last pandemic periods are transformed into habit. We foresee a year of transformation in the sector where, in any case, the rule of flexibility is in force “, comments Corrado Mapelli, on the board of Gruppo Meregalli.