WASHINGTON, D.C., 01/08/2024 – Last week, Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA)’s Access LIVE, returned to Las Vegas to bring together over 2,600 attendees from all three tiers of the industry, international suppliers, the budding hemp-beverage category, and vendors including innovative hardware and software providers for a best-in-class, content-packed three days of programming and exploration.
The premier beverage-alcohol industry event boasts annually the largest concentration of U.S. wine and spirits distributors of any trade show in the country with more than 90 wholesaler companies represented and more than 60% of those attending maintaining C-Suite, decision making influence. This year programming took advantage of these titans of industry, introducing Wholesaler Power Hour panels for attendees to learn more about the history, trends, and future of our marketplace.
Additional programming included a closing night keynote from FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate and an opening night panel discussion featuring experts from some of the largest retailers in the U.S. beverage alcohol industry focused on one of the biggest challenges currently facing all three industry tiers: retail theft.
At one of the most attended sessions annually, SipSource Analysts Danny Brager and Dale Stratton reviewed key trends for wine and spirits sales from year-end 2023 and moving into 2024. Offering hope after a third unsatisfying holiday season, Brager and Stratton confirmed that consumer sentiment is improving somewhat while inflation continues to moderate. However, they warn that generational trends, interest rates and consumer debt, are also impacting the markets, and that more diverse buyers mean changing tastes the industry needs to account for.
“[This is the] kind of programming you aren’t going to be able to catch in the trade press or by watching cable news,” said WSWA President and CEO Francis Creighton. “Industry leaders want to speak at Access LIVE because this is the place where they have everyone who matters in the room, all at once, brought together by the wholesaler tier.”
New to the show floor this year, more than a dozen exhibitors representing hemp-infused intoxicating beverages showcased their brands. While products containing THC were not sampled or distributed during the event, vendors were able to represent their brands and educate wholesalers on flavor profiles, potency and the ever-growing variety of products in their portfolios.
“Consumer sentiment is always changing, and industry inevitably has to change with it,” said Creighton. “Having our Access LIVE hemp neighborhood illustrates the dynamic nature of the wholesale tier, helping brands and retailers connect with consumers where they are today.” WSWA is the first beverage alcohol industry group to call on Congress to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis through a comprehensive regulatory model.
With all three-tiers of the industry under the same roof, it was also a chance attendees to recognize and celebrate the outstanding achievements of their peers. WSWA’s 2024 Award winners are:
- WSWA’s 2024 Lifetime Leadership Award Winner: Doug Hertz, Chairman and CEO, United Distributors
- 2024 Ray Herrmann H.E.R.O. Award Winner: Tito Beverage, Founder, Tito’s Homemade Vodka
- WSWA’s 2024 Retailer Community Service Award Winner: Walmart
- WSWA 2024 Wholesaler Mover and Shaker: Kirk Wolthouse, Vice President, Fedway
- WSWA 2024 Wholesaler Mover and Shaker: Phil Sobel, Senior Vice President Sales, Allied Beverage Group
- WSWA 2024 Wholesaler Mover and Shaker: Katie Sauer, Vice President and Co-Founder, Momentum Beverage Group
- WSWA 2024 Wholesaler Mover and Shaker: Shani Gregory, Purchasing Manager, Shipping, Classique Wines
- WSWA 2024 Wholesaler Mover and Shaker: Cristina Desmond, Regional Vice President, Central U.S., Breakthru Beverage Group
- WSWA’s 2024 Brand Battle Champion: Quintaliza Tequila
Registration for WSWA’s Access LIVE 2025 will open in early summer.
“I can’t wait,” said Creighton. “For one thing, this will be the first time we are breaking up the Orlando/Vegas dichotomy, [being in] Denver next year [will be] amazing. We’re going to see more innovation in new products embracing cocktail culture with no- and low-alc[ohol] products…more innovation coming in ethnic markets, with increasing representation from products like baiju (a spirit made in China), or whiskies from India…[and] more wine regions represented next year, as wholesalers seek out new partners and flavor profiles for increasingly curious consumers.”