By James Atkinson
Licensed importers would do well to focus on selling their own products rather than trying to discredit their competitors, according to Michael Kollaras (pictured), who has spoken out against critics of parallel importers.
Kollaras, group general manager of Kollaras Group, one of Australia's biggest parallel importers of liquor, was responding to this month's coverage on TheShout of a recent tasting by wine critic Huon Hooke comparing parallel imported Champagne to that brought in by the licensed Australian wholesaler.
Kollaras told TheShout that a one-off tasting of two Champagnes was completely inadequate to draw any conclusions when there are so many other variables that could affect product quality.
"Hooke himself has suggested it's hardly scientific and he said no conclusions can be drawn," Kollaras said.
"Interestingly enough, Hooke in the Sydney Morning Herald also rated the parallel stock at 87 points. If you go back and look at his own scoring criteria that rates it as a bronze medal!"
Kollaras said Hooke himself also conceded that: "One of the reasons staleness can occur is when Champagne may have been lying around on a shop shelf for too long, or if a cork has not done its job properly".
"Besides the fact that they're in no position to be making assumptions, when they have no idea on who, how or where stock is coming from, and how it's stored or transported, they themselves need to stop trying to justify the poor quality product tastings, by way of assuming that it's been handled incorrectly," Kollaras said.
Even if licensed importers are using air conditioned containers as they claim, Kollaras argued that their products will inevitably be transported and stored by retailers in non-refrigerated environments on arrival in Australia.
"This would mean it is subject to extreme fluctuations in temperature, that one would assume would cause more damage, than that of a product maintained in ambient temperature throughout," he said.
"If it was refrigerated from point A to the consumer all the way through, then you could understand [their claims].
"But unless you're going to personally deliver it to my home when I've got my dinner guests there, you're kidding yourself."
Parallel is here to stay: Kollaras
Kollaras reminded licensed importers that his company has been in business for more than 50 years and has been importing some of their brands for longer than they have.
"As a business, over the years we've been offered numerous agencies on brands, leading Champagnes included, which we've knocked back, due to the fact that the brand owners want more for their product than it's actually worth on the global market," he said.
"Why should Australia be disadvantaged?"
Kollaras said his ability to offer Champagne to the trade at unprecedentedly low prices is a testament to Federal legislative amendments in 1997 and 2003 permitting parallel importation of copyright-protected goods.
"That ultimately made products more affordable and is more than likely the instigator of the significant growth of the Champagne category and many other categories within this country today," he said.
Kollaras said it's time official importers realised that parallel importers are here to stay.
"Instead of bagging them and the products that they represent, which is to the detriment of their own brand, maybe what they should be doing is knuckling down and doing what the brand owners want them to do – sell product."