The Canadian wine industry has a shipping problem

A little behind-the-scenes report for you.

Maybe my subject line is a bit dramatic - but it has been a hellish Q1 for wine shipping.

I don't see the wineries making a heavy public push to communicate about it. And I certainly hear the frustrations of consumers. So it may be helpful to use my platform to briefly discuss it.

To start, a story:

One of our recent Crushable offers had a few frozen or broken packages.

In this business, to be honest, you just assume at least one package will be lost or broken. It happens no matter how hard everyone tries.

Well, this particular offer was on the high side (I think it was 3 in total), but still within acceptable, historical error rates.

So our customer contacted me. Then I called the winery.

As I said, it's a common thing. So usually they just say "okay, shipping a new one tomorrow, thanks for letting me know."

This time, what I heard from the other end of the phone was like the sigh to end all sighs, then some kind of guttural growl, and finally: "WHAT?!! Oh maaaaaaan. EVERYTHING IS BROKEN. Everything. Aaargh!".

I said, whoa, no, this is only the third package. And then he caught himself and clarified, "right, sorry, it's just... I've been getting these calls every day since the start of the week. We're getting killed over here."

Let me be clear, this is not necessarily an indictment of shipping companies or me making excuses for wineries.

Clearly the increase in volume, based mostly on Covid, revealed just how inelastic the capabilities of shipping services are in this country. At least for wine.

Maybe you have seen a similar thing across other industries. I don't know.

Another example, if I may, from Amanda Vranckx, manager at Front Road Cellars:

"My favourite shipping, let’s call it “incident” of 2020 when we signed up with a company, they moved a dozen or so orders for us - seemed OK! They then lost, and broke six packages, including one they somehow delivered to the neighbour's a block away. By the time I finally got them to issue us a credit for one of the lost packages, we had moved back to using Canada Post because while they may be a bit slow - at least we’re supporting our tiny local post office. When went to use our credit with aforementioned shipping company - well, you know how this story ends - half of the cases were lost, then magically "found" back to us, with half the bottles broken and damaged, of course."

This is all to say that wine consumers should be aware that shipping snafus are likely going to be more frequent, and that we'll also likely see an increase in cost (generally born by the consumer) to ease some of that.

In the winter, and the dead of summer - wine shipping is going to be fraught with more issues. Temperature control is still a service that is unsolved, and certainly inconsistently applied, across Canada.

Some wineries complain about the cost increases laid out by ATS, which is a medical-transport company in the middle of a pandemic. Of course they are going to bump costs, and prioritize shipping things other than wine right now - welcome to the market - cry more. (awaiting the hate mail now).

From various sources, I've heard that the LCBO and SAQ have become exponentially more threatening (these things go in cycles, and we seem to be in a heavy threat cycle for the Eastern producers right now, like getting personally contacted with vague warnings.)

If you'll allow a generalization - what I have seen over a few years of selling direct to consumer, is that the Eastern wineries are less experienced and less equipped to ship West, than vice verse. The relative shipping inexperience of Eastern wineries has little to do with their effort or desires. Technically, interprovincial shipping is grey market at best. But more than that, they have enough population density to do very well simply selling in their own area.

Across the board, all the wineries I deal with are lovers of winegrowing and appreciators and generally just passionate people who genuinely want more Canadians to be able to try their products, so the desire to sell wine across the country (at least from their point of view) is much more geared to that, rather than dollars and cents.

Wineries are so desirous for you to experience their wine, that they have gone down a rabbit hole of feeling like they must offer deals on shipping, even now, when in reality the costs should be going up and must be born (at least in part) by the consumer.

Even when there is a temperature controlled shipper, there is often a sub-contractor who collects the package from a waystation and delivers it to the final destination (usually in the case of remote areas).

One last quirk: because of Covid, shipments that would normally require a signature are being left on doorsteps. The claim is that the doorbell is always rung, but if you are in the shower or on a call or whatever, that wine could be sitting outside all day, and in some parts of Canada you can imagine that is not going to work out so well for the temperature control.

So, again, there are no easy answers.

As a wine consumer, you are at least owed an explanation and overview of what I am seeing from this side of the (virtual) counter.

At least in the short term, I am going to encourage wineries to use more dependable solutions. Even if that means a slight increase in shipping cost. I will discourage the blending of shipping prices into the wine pack price. It should be transparent where the costs are falling.

Personally - and you may disagree - I don't mind paying an extra five bucks (even ten) on shipping to use a more thorough, temperature-controlled option.

Nice, totally unsexy, topic, eh?

Now, who wants to invest in a temperature controlled wine shipping company?

Have a lovely weekend.


Recent Posts

See All