Operations

How Devon Broglie Manages Global Wine Buying for Whole Foods

The Master Sommelier shares his tips and strategies for overseeing a large-scale program

Photo of Devon Broglie.
Photo courtesy of Devon Broglie.

Devon Broglie, MS, attended Duke University on an ambitious academic track, pursuing degrees in both psychology and economics; in his senior year he scored an internship with a prestigious consulting firm. But Broglie’s side job in a restaurant ended up being the catalyst that sparked his impressive career in the wine and spirits industry, leading to his current position as one of the top two global beverage buyers at grocery giant Whole Foods Market.

“I like to characterize it as, I dreaded going into the office for my internship, and I loved going into my shifts at the restaurant,” Broglie says of those career-defining college days. “I knew that if I treated the restaurant industry as a profession and gave it the respect that it deserved, I could be successful.”

After graduating from Duke, Broglie spent four years in the restaurant industry, as well as a grape harvest season in Spain, before joining the Whole Foods team in 2001. In his current position, he—in collaboration with his boss, Doug Bell—is in charge of purchasing and programming for the chain’s 320-plus U.S. stores that sell alcohol (in August, Whole Foods was acquired by Amazon for $13.7 billion). Broglie and Bell also provide guidance and support for buyers across 11 regions and each store or metropolitan area’s beverage team.

In 2011, Broglie earned his Master Sommelier certification, and while that was certainly a career highlight, he describes his stint in Spain—in 2000 he moved to the Priorat region in Catalonia to work a harvest at a prominent winery—as instrumental in cultivating his passion for wine. “I came out of that experience not with a desire to make wine but an intense appreciation of what it took to make wine,” he says. “It really clarified my desire for a career in wine. I felt like my calling was helping people be more comfortable drinking wine and less intimidated by the prospect of purchasing it.”

That sums up the philosophy Broglie brings to his role at Whole Foods, and his mission to create a comfortable, exciting environment in which customers can find exactly what they’re looking for—and discover new wines. “His past experiences bring much to the table for the here and now of his everyday business practices,” Bell says. “He elevates our entire global buying team to a level that I do not think exists in the grocery channel of beverage retail.”

Doug Bell and Devon Broglie. Photo courtesy of Devon Broglie.

Here, Broglie shares tips on spotting market trends and cultivating autonomy, and other insights on managing large-scale wine programs.

1. Develop a deep understanding of customers’ needs.

Broglie likes to visualize what Whole Foods’ wine consumers buy on an arc, with value-driven selections on one end and some of the world’s highest-quality, most distinctive wines on the other. “It’s our mission to help people enter that arc, provide something for them on it, and then help them progress along it—and with zero judgment,” he says. It’s essential, then, for Whole Foods’ inventory to span a wide variety of price points, Broglie says, always reflecting the best example of each wine in its respective category.

2. Rely on on-the-ground expertise.

Whole Foods was founded with a commitment to local, organic food and products, which helps the chain cultivate a culture of individuality among stores, since much of their inventory comes from regional wineries, breweries, and other vendors. Each of the Whole Foods stores that sell alcohol has its own wine specialist (who’s sometimes the beer specialist too) who knows the local markets intimately, oversees inventory, and has the power to make and influence purchasing decisions instead of being issued a hard-line directive by headquarters. “We’re not just handing people a map and saying, ‘Follow this to the letter,’” Broglie says. “Instead, we want to be a resource.”

3. Become adept at recognizing market trends.

One of Broglie’s favorite examples of turning a market trend into bottom-line returns involves Whole Foods’ foray into canned sparkling wines. As the demand for canned wine and craft beer surged, Broglie and his colleagues noticed that there was very little competition in the canned sparkling wine segment. “We had the wherewithal to say, ‘This has potential,’” he says. In 2016, they acted on it. “We took our most popular Italian sparkling wine, a Prosecco, put it in a can, and sold thousands and thousands of cases of it.” In 2017, Whole Foods rolled out sparkling rosé in a can—which turned out to be another successful move (the company doesn’t share specific sales figures).

4. Learn how to scale up the right way.

Broglie says the process of scaling up promotions and marketing programs is an intentional hybrid of regional autonomy and corporate support. For example, when the U.S. rosé market was on the upswing around 2011, Broglie and his team took note of growing sales in several of their regions and in 2013 launched a company-wide rosé promotion based on that trend. Each region chose six rosés to highlight, and the corporate office provided supporting marketing materials that regions customized with their products.  

Over the next few years, Broglie and his colleagues expanded the program, adding top-performing products across several regions to promote globally; the next version of the program will have a dozen wines total. It’s been a huge success, Broglie says, with double-digit growth yearly.

5. Reframe the idea of what selling means.

Broglie doesn’t think of sales in terms of selling products to customers. Instead, he encourages on-the-floor specialists to create an environment that makes customers comfortable enough to make a purchase—an atmosphere that allows for the cultivation of a long-term relationship. “If all a customer wants is California Chardonnay, we want to give them California Chardonnay, not Grüner Veltliner,” Broglie says. “But if we keep an eye on full-on hospitality, helping folks feel at ease and confident in their decisions, it absolutely leads to their exploration and comfort level with different things—and more excitement for everybody.”

Blane Bachelor is a lifestyle and travel writer based in San Francisco. Her work regularly appears in New York magazine, Marie Claire, the Washington Post, Hemispheres, and many other publications.

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