The Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America’s (wswa.org) Annual Convention & Exposition began 71 years ago and has grown and changed over time into an industry-leading event designed to unite suppliers, distributors, service providers and beverage professionals under one roof. What began as a simple meeeting has now grown into the largest gathering of the country’s wine and spirits distributors, as well as suppliers from around the world. The event, held this year from April 8 to 10 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, offers distributors the chance to interact with new and existing portfolio partners. Beverage World talked with Craig Wolf, president and CEO of WSWA about the convention and what attendees can expect.
BW: What can attendees expect from the show this year and is there anything new planned for this year?
WOLF: This year, we’re continuing a new competition launched last year—the Hoptails Competition where top mixologists compete with custom-blended cocktails utilizing craft and other brewed beverages as an ingredient—it represents the constantly-evolving boundaries of our industry.
We also have a tremendous amount of interest in the Wholesaler Iron Mixologist Competition. This exciting event features wholesaler mixologists matched against one another each making specialty drinks which must include one of the secret ingredients that are revealed during the competition. It’s always action-packed and interesting—and offers a look at what is coming to a bar or market in your home town in the weeks ahead. Our Call for Cocktails Mixology Competition is also very popular with the industry’s leading creative forces.
BW: How has the show evolved over the past seven decades, and how do you see it evolving in the years to come?
WOLF: [The event] is constantly evolving—just as the industry as a whole evolves. One of our members recently told me that the top 40 percent of their products weren’t around 15 years ago. That is an amazing scale of innovation. From the diversity of suppliers to the rise of craft and local-oriented distillers, wineries and brewers—our event reflects the larger trends in the industry. Our Convention & Exposition also includes the U.S. Beverage Alcohol Forum, a day-long education program where attendees can hear from top industry pros, suppliers, legal and marketing experts, about the latest trends, data points and challenges facing the industry. Just as we try to be the place where new products connect with distributors, we try to connect attendees with the information resources and experts they need to help their businesses succeed.
BW: What are some of the specific events or attractions attendees can expect to encounter this year?
WOLF: Every year, the WSWA Annual Convention & Exposition garners a wide array of attention based on the interest of the participant. We work hard to offer something for everyone; the Hot Brand Awards announcements; our five competitions, the launch of a new product on the show floor or in the suites; the opening night reception and Taste of the Industry; the General Sessions with great keynote speakers; or the live radio or television interviews. There is always action on the show floor and in the lower level and traditional hospitality suites. You can feel the buzz, and that’s what makes it exciting!