Marthélize Tredoux: Is SA wine using the data?

By , 11 May 2016

DataAs I sit down to write this post, my head is still spinning after two whirlwind weeks filled with meetings, discussions and information-laden presentations around SA-to-USA wine exports. The Managing Director of the company I work for was down in South Africa for his annual visit and we had a packed schedule, meeting with our partner wineries, discussing all the problems and the potential around the US market. Mostly, though, we discussed data. All kinds of data, and how we can use this to make better decisions.

Of course, the type of data we focused on was mostly framed within the context of sales to US customers at local cellar door level (which is our core business) but it got me thinking about how we use data (if at all) to better understand the problems we have improving market share internationally.

Or rather, it had me thinking about how we don’t know how to use data. Or perhaps how we don’t know which data to use. I’m using the word ‘data’ a lot. Let me illustrate.

Part of my job is to work closely with the tasting rooms of our partner wineries. I keep asking the tasting room managers about the make-up of the traffic through the tasting room. And I keep hearing about the Germans. Oh, so many Germans. All the time. Germans. Everywhere. And when I ask about the Americans? Oh, no. We don’t see many Americans through here. Now this does make sense – Germany is one of our major export markets and Cape Town/Stellenbosch is home to a very large community of Germans. So their presence is unquestionable.

But then we had a look at the numbers – specifically at arrivals at Cape Town International – and the data painted a different picture: there are more US visitors arriving in in Cape Town annually than there are German visitors (specifically here for leisure purposes).

This example is a great illustration of how perception trumps facts in the absence of actual data (even when the data is available – often it’s just not considered or even looked at). The way tasting rooms are set up to welcome visitors, how service is managed and how sales markets are targeted can all be changed to be more effective by simply digging up and looking at some data. This was a very specific example – a very narrow slice placed under the microscope – but it’s the principle that’s important here.

There’s a lot of thumb-suck and guess-work happening in the industry. Data either isn’t available, isn’t being used or we don’t even know how to get it. Or we have it but we don’t know how to use it. Or we see it but we prefer to stick our heads in the sand because it’s cozy there and life is easier when we choose to ignore our problems. Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored (that might be an Aldous Huxley quote).

A while back, I wrote about the problems with our wine exports, specifically the weak links that are problematic in the system that gets the wine from us to the customer. I realize it’s easy to point out everything that’s wrong – the more opinionated amongst us do it daily, but we’re often tragically light on providing answers to the questions we pose.

Well, today I offer you solutions. Specifically, data driven solutions. I’m no statistician or actuary, but I know that the numbers hide some valuable answers. So if you have data, look at it. If you don’t, gather it. Skimming over sales numbers and making the ingenious conclusion that this month’s sales are up or down from last month’s is not enough. Look for trends. Tie those trends to what’s happening in your market, your tasting room, your wine club. Find out who your customers are – where are they from, what do they like, what did they think of you.

Just because we work in an industry built around a romantic, ethereal product doesn’t mean our methods should be airy and intangible. In the words of W. Edwards Deming: “In God we trust. All others must bring data.”

  • Marthélize Tredoux is the co-owner and editor at Incogvino. By day, she helps SA wineries sell their wine in the USA. She won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2013.


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