INDUSTRY & INSTITUTIONS
Entrepreneur plan for the Okanagan
The Okanagan is already an entrepreneurial hotbed. But what can be done to make it even more so?
That was the question recently at the Okanagan
Valley Entrepreneurs Society roundtable designed to outline the region's business strengths and weaknesses and come up with a three-year action plan.
“The answers come in four categories – education and training, networking and collaboration, regional promotion and support services for entrepreneurs,” said facilitator David Church of Winnipeg-based Wildwood Consulting.
“Of course, action is already being taken in all these categories, but our mission is to build on what already exists, enhance it, take it up a notch.”
The roundtable consisted of a full-day of brain-
storming at the Delta Grand hotel among entrepre- neurs and facilitators from a variety of backgrounds.
“I call it a rapid innovation process,” explained Church. “From this one day session has to come a three year action plan.”
Church has used a similar process to help devel- op provincial economic development strategies for the governments of Manitoba premiers Gary Doer and Greg Selinger.
The Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society has been around for a few years offering networking, educational and resources support for the self-em- ployed and business owners.
But the society wanted to expand its mandate and help make the Okanagan a true international desti- nation for ideas, innovation, entrepreneurs and en- terprise.
To some extent the Valley already is.
Its ideal four-seasons weather, stunning scenery and recreational lifestyle attracts businesspeople to live, work, play and invest.
Generally, the profile is a self-employed person who can operate their company from anywhere in the world there’s an Internet connection, phone line and airport for when face-to-face meetings or per- sonal presence is required.
“Schools and industry groups are the places to
network, glean practical suggestions and figure out ways to partner and grow your business,” said Church.
Better Wine, Cheaper In tough economic times, people still drink – probably even more.
“But they drink differently,” pointed out Gordon Fitzpatrick, president of CedarCreek Winery in Kelowna. “They want to spend less.Th
ey want value. But they still want quality.”
As such, the recession we are coming out of has benefited wine drinkers with cheaper and better wines.
And the trends is likely to continue even as the economy im-
proves because Canadian wines are facing stiff competition from international vintages – especially from countries like Australia, Argentina and Chile.
Fitzpatrick was part of Canadian Wine Industry Outlook panel that Bank of Montreal put together recently.
Also on the panel were John E. Peller, the president of Andrew
Peller Wines, which has wineries in both Ontario and the Okanagan, including Calona Wines, Sandhill, Red Rooster and Peller Estates; Norm Beal of Peninsula Ridge Winery in Ontario; and Bank of Montreal’s agriculture national manager David Rinneard.
Rinneard kicked the session off with an overview that while
certainly impacted by the recession the Canadian wine industry is healthy.
“Sales of Canadian wine hit $900 million in 2010,” he said. “Generally, since 1998, Canadian wine sales have gone up an
average of 7.6 per cent every year.Th
at compares well to just one per cent for the beverage category overall.”
However, during the recession there was still annual growth in Canadian wine sales, but it slowed to about two per cent.
“In the heady days of 2005-08, consumers loved their trophy wines and bragged about the bottles they paid $40 for,” ex- plained Fitzpatrick.
“Now, consumers are more likely to be bragging about the
great value wine they found for $20.” To cater to this new consumer thrift, CedarCreek went from a
three-tier system – entry-level, estate select and platinum – to a two-tier system (estate select and platinum) and kept prices down, but quality up.
For instance, the winery used to produce three merlots – plat-
inum at $40, estate select at $30 and entry-level at $20. Now, there’s just a platinum at $40 and an estate select at $20.
“The reality is you’re getting better wine for less,” said Fitzpatrick.
CedarCreek is keeping costs down by becoming more efficient and using the stronger Canadian dollar to buy bottles and bar- rels.
While Peller admitted sales growth has tapered off in the re- cession, he’s optimistic about the future.
“Wine is the beverage of choice for moderation, health and cul- ture,” he said.
“Baby boomers drink wine, but we’re also getting younger adults drinking wines rather than just beer and cheaper spirits.” Competition doesn’t just come from international producers,
but domestic ones, too. When the Fitzpatricks bought CedarCreek in 1986, there were a dozen wineries in B.C. Now there are 220.
Beal pointed out that 11 years ago when he opened Peninsula Ridge, there were 42 wineries in Ontario.No
w there are 130.
While the domestic playing field is level, the international one is not.
“Canada is a high-cost producer and as such should focus on premium wines of good value that over deliver in the market- place,” he said.
“In the Okanagan, we get an average of four tons (of grapes) per acre, even less for some varieties like pinot noir,” he said. “Whereas in countries with longer growing seasons, they can get up to 10 to 12 tons per acre.”
After a cool, wet spring and late summer, the fall harvest and resulting wine from 2011 is expected to be exceptional.
OKANAGAN OUTLOOK 2011 — 13
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