In recent years, there have been several transformations all around the world including the food and beverages industry. Also, consumers have inculcated numerous new food and drink habits as there has been an increase in travel. The wine industry, in particular, has reasonably gained new consumers globally. As it is one of the most popular ways to connect and celebrate occasions. This has motivated the wine industry to promote new technology. Traditionally, the consumer demand was more about established, well-known brand names with well-known winemakers and estates. However, today, the trend is toward smaller, lesser-known, and more niche wines and producers.
“Today’s consumers want something unique and new, and they want to feel like they have discovered something new,” says Jeremy Jerome (COO and Founding Partner of Votto Vines). Jeremy adds that the average wine consumer is also younger and more educated about the wines that they are seeking. Being a dynamic leader and serial entrepreneur, Jeremy plays an integral role in helping Votto Vines keep up with the changing industry trends and thrive in the ever-increasing market competition.
Pursuing the Vision
Jeremy had a dream to be a small business owner from his college days. He studied business management with a focus on entrepreneurial studies. After college, he started his career selling Yellow Page Advertisements. Although it was not his dream job, he knew he needed experience. The practice of cold calling companies with a once-a-year sales renewal cycle in a dying industry was as a business boot camp for him. After working there for two years, he entered into the real estate sector, where he worked for two years as a trainee.
Subsequently, Jeremy started his own appraisal business in 2006. Within the first three years, he had a staff of nine full-time appraisers, covering three states. Yet, despite the success, he wanted to pursue more than what his current carrier offered. Since childhood, he was always interested in food and beverages. However, wine was not a big passion or interest to him until he married his Italian-American wife and met his brother-in-law Mike Votto – an attorney by trade. Mike had a passion for Italian culture and wine, which was infectious. Thus, following the passion and vision to achieve more than their current careers, Mike and Jeremy, along with three other family members, established Votto Vines in 2009.
Emphasizing Innovation, Providing Value
As Votto Vines was established during a global recession, Jeremy knew it had to be unique to survive and succeed. Thus, as a company, it has always focused on innovation to grow. When Votto Vines started, its team was very young for the industry. Thus to make a mark for itself, Votto Vines had to offer something innovative as well as something that offers value.
Jeremy states, “Like most young startups, we did everything ourselves—from importing the wines, to back-office paperwork, to making deliveries to our customers in our own cars.” Votto Vines’ focus quickly became finding wines that offered a unique story as well as great value. The company attracted more customers by finding items that allowed customers to make better margins while still delivering quality and value to the end customer.
Furthermore, as a leading wine importer, Votto Vines pays close attention to food trends. In recent years, there has been a big movement towards local, or ‘farm to table’. Organic and sustainable has also been a major trend. Anticipating the trends, Votto Vines has focused on smaller estates with a family, farmer’s mentality.
Moving forward with Flexibility
As a founding partner and COO, Jeremy plays different roles in Votto Vines. He handles daily operations and manages people, inventory, and business development. “We went from the five founders in CT to having more than 30 employees and warehouses in three states. However, we remain lean and nimble and the five founders all still wear many different hats,” he adds. He further states that this business is extremely relationship-driven and Votto Vines’ customers like that they can directly talk with the company owners.
Jeremy believes that while Votto Vines is still considered a small company by industry standards, its vision have mirrored trends on the national level. Since its inception, the company has been innovative in the ways it brings products to the market. “We have been on trend with emerging sales strategies and categories and have innovated to solve logistical challenges that others have struggled to address,” says Jeremy.
Combating the Unforeseen Challenge
Alike other industries, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the wine industry in numerous ways. Retailers experienced spiking sales, while restaurants experienced dramatic declines. Jeremy adds that the challenge for companies like Votto Vines was finding ways to get its product in consumers’ hands without being able to do any testing demos while browsing shelves with hundreds of selections. It also faced some other challenges such as supply chain disruptions, health and safety of employees, and the ever-changing regulatory environment amid the pandemic.
Coping with these challenges, the company has managed to stay busy and keep its entire workforce employed since the industry was deemed ‘essential’ by the government. Votto Vines has thrived during the pandemic due to the relationships it built with its customers. “Without being able to demo products and communicate in the ways that we had in the past, the foundation of trust that we built prior to 2020 was extremely important,” says Jeremy. He adds that he and Votto Vines learned three important lessons from the pandemic—never underestimate the power of relationship building, always remember the core principle of providing value to the customers, and never get complacent but always remain humble and nimble.
Heading Towards Sustainability
Sustainable and Organic food and beverage is the future and Jeremy agrees to the same, by saying, “The trend toward of food and beverage will be inclined more towards sustainable and organic food and beverages.” He deems how consumers find and buy wine will continue to shift towards alternative channels, and the suppliers and retailers that succeed will be those that focus on customer experience and value.
Besides all the skills and qualities, maintaining an appropriate work-life balance is crucial to thriving as an entrepreneur. Jeremy ensures the same by taking out time to read books and watch movies. When asked for a book and movie recommendation, he recommended Vino Italiano as one of the must-read industry books and Sideways as his favorite wine movie.
Read Full issue: The 10 Prominent Food and Beverage Leaders to Look for in 2021