The Essential Role of Technology in Beverage Alcohol

By Roger Morris, Contributor to World of Fine Wine, Drinks Business, Meininger’s

Talk with anyone in the wine, spirits and beer trade – in fact, talk to anyone who even drinks alcoholic beverages – and they will tell you how the pandemic contributed significantly to their adoption of technology. Suddenly we operated “remotely,” unable to conduct business face-to-face or sit down for a cocktail at our favorite restaurant. As a highly regulated industry, beverage alcohol was notably slower than other consumer areas regarding technology. The pandemic ushered in 10 years of platform innovation and transformed consumer purchasing behaviors in a matter of weeks.

The Evolving Landscape of Business

Leading global beverage alcohol importer, distributor, and service provider MHW Ltd. has worked with clients from more than 80 countries since its inception in 1995. Because of their wide geographical scope, MHW developed proprietary technology long before the pandemic in order to provide clients real-time visibility into their business and financial data from anywhere in the world.

MHW’s Client Reporting Dashboard (CRD) is a cloud-based online portal that provides around-the-clock visibility into sales, inventory, and financial reporting. It also allows billback and invoice management and tracking. For a wider lens view, MHW also provides a comprehensive view of each clients’ US market activity. The CRD provides brand leaders information they need to make decisions for their business, identify and connect with new customers, and engage their MHW customer service team.

“Technology exists at all levels at MHW,” Gabe Barkley notes. “The backbone of our business is an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that is set up to execute the core functions of the brands that we import and distribute.”

MHW’s ERP decreases the number of entries needed and decreases the possibility of mistakes.

“The beauty of our model,” Barkley says, “is that we have every incentive to act in our client’s best needs because we don’t succeed unless they do. Technology enables us to be more effective partners for our clients and customers.”

Barkley, who recently led a panel titled “Tech Takeover: The Expanding Role of Technology in Beverage Alcohol” at VinExpo America in New York’s Javits Center, noted other business trends:

  • Importers and distributors are using advanced tracking to help work out supply chain snarls.
  • Wholesalers are creating their own systems for ordering and delivering with faster turnaround times and – hopefully – at lower costs.
  • The largest wholesalers are employing new picking and shipping tech at their warehouses.
  • Retailers are adopting innovative programs and hardware to gain and keep track of orders.

Consumer Behavioral and Technology Usage Shifts

“In the last two years, there has been a seismic shift in how consumers regard alcohol technology and platforms,” says Gabe Barkley. “Technology has become readily and rapidly accessible for consumers. Older Americans who had never ordered anything online are suddenly browsing for premium wines and spirits.”

Other shifts include:

  • Drinkers at home are navigating several platform choices for online ordering from both brick-and-mortar and digital retailers.
  • Wineries are now hiring tech-savvy marketers to accelerate online sales and conduct virtual consumer programs.
  • Restaurant diners are scanning barcodes to order and pay for beverages.

Looking ahead, Barkley adds, “We still have a long way to go in our industry to capture all the possibilities of technology available.”