Marlborough wine brands lose out in Air NZ shake-up

Air New Zealand's decision to drastically cut its wine selection for economy and premium economy classes and move to just one supplier is disappointing for Marlborough wine brands, says the head of the regional industry body.

New Zealand Winegrowers confirmed yesterday that New Zealand's national carrier had selected Villa Maria as its sole wine supplier. This followed a similar move last week when Air New Zealand cancelled its contract with Marlborough brewer Moa to supply its Koru Lounge and international flights only a year into a three-year contract.

Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens said a number of Marlborough wineries were disappointed by Air New Zealand's decision.

"Especially given the partnership that has always existed between Air New Zealand and the wine industry - in effect we've grown up together," he said.

"There is a huge loyalty to the brand Air New Zealand and this will linger, but the potential is for it to be eroded both by winery travellers and, maybe, passengers noticing a change in diversity."

The new procurement arrangement is understood to be part of a significant food and beverage shake-up by the national carrier as a way of cutting costs and centralising suppliers.

New Zealand Winegrowers chair Steve Green said yesterday that while Villa Maria would be the sole wine supplier for economy and premium economy classes, business premier class would continue to have more than one supplier.

The decision by Air New Zealand came late last year, he said.

Air New Zealand and Villa Maria have not responded to inquiries.

Last week a spokeswoman for Air New Zealand told the Express that the airline had no plans to change "our current wine procurement arrangements".

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It is unclear whether Villa Maria will be the sole wine supplier to Koru lounges.

Last year marked the 28th year Air New Zealand has held naming rights to the country's premier wine awards The Air New Zealand Wine Awards.

Green said that in the past wines served by Air New Zealand were selected through a tender process which were opened to all wineries every six months or so.

"Through that process they were able to get some really interesting wines.

"From our membership's point of view we see it [the move to a single supplier] as hardly constructive to helping the wine industry."

Green said it was a shame a broad spectrum of New Zealand wines would no longer be showcased in Air New Zealand economy and premium economy. "It means that the variety of wines being offered will be curtailed."

Having a wine featured on an Air New Zealand flight raised a winery's profile, he said. "It's not just a case of selling wine."

Economy and premium economy classes made up the bulk of wine served on Air New Zealand flights, he said.

Villa Maria was founded by Sir George Fistonich in 1961 at Mangere, Auckland. It has winemaking facilities in both Auckland and Marlborough and vineyard holdings in Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Marlborough. The Marlborough winery, in Fairhall, opened in 2000.

The company markets itself as the producer of New Zealand's most awarded wines and is still owned by Fistonich.

 - The Marlborough Express

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