While wholly owned by the Falic Group, UETA Ship Supply operates independently of its namesake UETA Duty Free, which runs a chain of shops on the US/Mexican border and across Latin America, plus Duty Free Americas (DFA) in the US and South America.
The US-based distributor headquartered in Hollywood, Florida was established following discussions between experienced wines & spirits executive Mark Fine and a mutual friend of the Falic’s, Ira Laufer, who has also joined UETA Group globally.
Fine has taken on the position of Vice President Sales & Marketing Cruise Line Channel at UETA Ship Supply.
In an exclusive interview, Fine elucidated on what the newly formed venture sees as a first-of-kind opportunity that provides added value for both cruise operators and suppliers.
UETA Ship Supply is offering to work independently and collaboratively with suppliers and cruise lines to help develop and create exciting drinks lists, activations and promotions, and train staff.
“For the most part, ship chandlers are logistics clearing houses, receiving products and making sure they get to the ships,” he explained.
“Now more than ever, cruise lines are trying to figure out how to save money and make extra revenue. Instead of a cruise line possibly having to pay for a consultant or have suppliers pay to help develop these programmes, UETA is a new distributor and neutral company, if you will, that can offer these tools.
“It’s a very exciting time and we’re here for the long term: We are going to hire beverage professionals that either have wine, liquor, beer or a combination of those backgrounds who understand the cruise lines and on-premise business.”
Up until recently, the US ship chandler market has been dominated by major players including Carisam and Fairn & Swanson.
The latter, a firmly established duty free wholesaler and distributor on the West Coast, filed for bankruptcy in May alongside its company Baja Duty Free as a direct result of the coronavirus (Covid-19).
Carisam has a warehouse in Miami, while Fairn & Swanson had one in California and the Miami area.
UETA Ship Supply boasts warehouses in Miami, California and in the Seattle area, which act as important logistical footprint for cruise lines wishing to trade when sailings eventually recommence.
Fine explains that it is a costly and unsustainable affair for those ship chandlers that do not possess warehouses on the West Coast serving vessels running itineraries from the region.
In providing such services, UETA Ship Supply is offering to fill a void while bringing together suppliers and cruise line operators, suggests Fine.
“We are taking our knowledge from the supply and cruise line side and creating something really new and beneficial,” he said.
“This benefits supplier partners and the cruise lines and this is something that nobody in this channel has done before.
“Guests love to have memorable experiences, whether they are retail shopping or sitting in a restaurant or bar on a cruise ship – they want emotional connections, ‘Instagrammable’ moments and stories to share with their friends.”
Another string to the UETA Ship Supply bow lies in offering training and development programmes for onboard staff, such as bartenders and restaurant servers.
“Maybe they need a refresher on the services, wines, liquors or cocktails they are creating,” highlighted Fine. “You can have suppliers on ships, but they will be focused on their specific brands and quite often that will be more of a sales pitch than educational piece.
“Obviously many suppliers help with education pieces, but as a neutral company we can go and help out with entire menus to elevate the staff [knowledge]. At the end of the day, they’ll be more successful in selling more products.”
Fine points out that a win-win lies in reducing costs on the training side, while helping stock pull-through in a strategic manner.
At the time of writing, the firm is in discussion with a variety of stakeholders such as mixologists, wine aficionados holding sommelier certifications, and individuals who understand the on-premise business of cruise ships.
While operating as an independent party representing suppliers, UETA Ship Supply can nonetheless provide insight on the latest beverage trends and recommendations on wines, spirits, cocktails and the non-alcoholic segments, as necessary.
“Whether we are awarded (ship chandler) contracts or not, we want to be the ‘go-to beverage experts’ working with suppliers and cruise lines,” said Fine.
“There is a very big possibility given the huge amount of inventory on ships and consolidated in warehouses, when business restarts we might not sell one bottle to the cruise lines as they’ll have to deplete what they have. But we are fine with that, we want to go onboard, train people on ships and pull-through the inventory.”
At present, owing to the lack of sales in the cruise retail business, UETA Ship Supply is being established as an official distributor with most wine & spirits suppliers and non-alcoholic beverage companies.
UETA Ship Supply is also being registered as a vendor to the cruise lines in preparation for the restart.
“We’ve had conversations with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise Line,” revealed Fine. “We’ve submitted vendor forms for Norwegian Cruise Line and we’re finalising the submission of forms for Royal Caribbean.
“But it doesn’t matter about the size of the cruise line; we want to offer our services as a distributor and educational trainer to all cruise lines.
“A lot of resource is spent on the ‘big guys’ out there, but the placement of products for suppliers on these other cruise lines is important.”