Cutting the Wine Middleman: Interview with Michael Parmeter, General Manager of Vinomofo Singapore

I remember one of my first trips to Singapore, and I found a bottle of wine at a bottle shop that typically would retail for $10 in Australia, and it was selling for almost $100 in Singapore.

By STYLEGUIDE

August 26 2019

Having grown from a garage in Adelaide, Australia in 2011 to more than 550,000 mofos worldwide, more than $50 million annual revenue and more than 100 employees across three international markets, Vinomofo has taken the wine industry by storm. A curated online wine store, Vinomofo works directly with the best producers in the world to find the wines they love and curate them specifically for their mofos taste.

Vinomofo launched in Singapore in December 2016 and it seemed wine aficionados here had been eagerly waiting as the online wine store completely sold out its wine within 48 hours of launch. Since then, the business has grown to more than 30,000 Singaporean mofos with more than 250,000 bottles of wine sold globally.

Looking to disrupt the Singapore wine retailing scene, by removing the middleman, Vinomofo works directly with wineries to offer wines at prices that are easier to swallow. STYLEGUIDE speaks to Michael Parmeter, the first General Manager at Vinomofo Singapore, to find out more about Vinomofo’s business model and the benefits of cutting out the middlemen.

How does Vinomofo stand out in the competitive wine market, both in Singapore and Australia? 

We stand out through almost every single thing we do, however, three of our points of difference are probably the most important for us.

The first being our business model, we cut out the middleman and purchase directly from the producers and winemakers themselves, meaning we don’t have exorbitant importers, exporters or distributor fees that need to go on top of the cost of wine. Therefore, we’re selling our wine at prices that no one else can in the market. This enables us to sell our wine at prices that no one else in the market can.

The second being, we only sell wines we love, and all are premium and super-premium wines. No cleanskins, no mass retail wine brands, no bottom of the barrel junk, just really good wine from cool, rockstar producers from around the globe. Our philosophy is a simple one, if we don’t like it, we don’t sell it. All of the wines on Vinomofo are tasted before going onto the site, and only 5% of wines we taste, actually make it onto the website.

The third being, we talk about wine in a real way. We don’t ramble on about tannins or the soil type, we focus on removing the bowties and BS from the industry. We’re real people, talking about wine in a real way. It sets us apart.

What is the role of middlemen in the context of wine retailers?

Middlemen are typically the importers, exporters, and distributors of wine. So if you’re a wine producer in the South of France and you’re looking to get into the Singapore market, you’ll typically look for a French company that has connections in Singapore, then that company will sell your products to the company in Singapore, and then the Singapore company will sell your products to retailers or distributors. Each time a company or individual gets involved in the process, they’re marking up the cost of the wine to cover their own costs, and ultimately the consumer is the one that has to cover it. This was a practice we really wanted to stop.

This happens all the time in the industry, particularly in Singapore as it’s not a wine-growing region, so the end result is Singaporeans are paying far too much for wine. I remember one of my first trips to Singapore, and I found a bottle of wine at a bottle shop that typically would retail for $10 in Australia, and it was selling for almost $100 in Singapore. 

So for us, we want to put an end to this. We want to connect everyone with really good wine, without the ridiculous price tag. 

vinomofo wine singapore

Vinomofo’s business model operates without middlemen – how does that work? What is the rationale behind deciding to remove the middlemen?

We buy direct from the wine producers themselves and then sell directly to consumers - this cuts out all of the middlemen and gives the wine producers more revenue in their pocket and the consumer better value for money.

By operating this way, we can also buy deeper than anyone else in the market; so instead of buying 10 cases of wine, we’ll buy 1000 cases of wine. Again, this supports the wine producer far more and enables us to pass on awesome savings to our customers.

What are the benefits of cutting out the middlemen – to Vinomofo and to Singaporean consumers?

The greatest benefit is a better value for our customers. They get to enjoy wine from all over the world, explore what wines they love and try new wines without having to fork out a small fortune on wine.

For us, it’s a much more sustainable business model as we control the whole process. We curate the wines we sell based on our customers' tastes and preferences, and this business model builds up strong brand loyalty from our customers.

Are there any downsides or compromises (e.g. quality of wine) that resulted from removing the middlemen?

Not at all, in fact, we think it boosts the quality of wine as we don’t have to adhere to distribution agreements. We hand-pick the wines we sell and curate everything to suit our individual markets. There is no cookie-cutter approach from us - the wines we buy for Singapore are very different from the wines we buy for our Australian market, and this is because the tastes of our customers are different.

Our business model also gives us the ability to buy wine from a small batch, really cool and unique producers that most people wouldn’t ever stumble across in a bottle shop, as well as the bigger rockstar producers from around the world.

We always look to take our customers on a wine journey - to get them exploring new wines, and being adventurous with their wine choices, so this business model gives us the perfect structure to do so.

How effective this business model has proven and what are the applications for e-commerce businesses across industries?

For us, this business model has proven to be incredibly effective. It’s enabled us to buy deeper than anyone else, at a price that cannot be matched – we’re also offering both the wine producers and the customers better value because we cut out all of the middlemen and operate online.

Utilising eCommerce means we’re more agile, disruptive and can challenge the norm very quickly.

What similarities and differences have you observed between the Australian and Singaporean market?

Singaporeans and Australians both love big, bold red wines - surprisingly! When we first launched in Singapore, we imagined given how warm the weather is, white wines and sparkling wines would outsell red wine. But this definitely wasn’t the case!

Singaporeans are always adventurous with their palates - they love trying funky natural, biodynamic, organic and wild fermentation wines. These wines are wild by nature as they have minimal intervention and the winemaker just lets the wine do its thing, so the wine ends up being full of character and quite different.

What are your future plans for Vinomofo here in Singapore, and what can Singaporeans look forward to?

We’re looking at growing our customer base, holding more events and activations on the ground, working closely with corporate companies, and are looking into on-demand services in Singapore. We’ve got lots in the works, so it’s a really exciting time!

Also, we’re excited to share that Garyverchuk’s Empathy Wines Rosé has officially landed on our Singapore website (www.vinomofo.com.sg). It has a beautiful blend of Syrah, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Barbera, Tanat, Carignan and Muscat, this rosé is the perfect all-rounder – a great pairing with Asian dishes too.

Vinomofo wine singapore Gary Vaynerchuk Justin dry

Image: Gary Vaynerchuk with Justin Dry, Founder of Vinomofo

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