By Katy Scott
PHILADELPHIA (CNN) — Heini Zachariassen never quite understood wine.
He would go to the supermarket to pick out a bottle, but was often at a loss when confronted with the inevitable “wall of wine.”
It bothered him — so he set out to build an app that catalogs, organizes and ranks millions of bottles.
“We had a problem that needed solving: I want to drink better wine but I don’t know [anything] about wine,” said Zachariassen.
Seven years and 25 million downloads later, the Vivino app that Zachariassen created is used by a community of casual drinkers who have reviewed and rated nearly 12 million bottles of wine.
Users snap a photo of a wine label with their phone, and the app will return user ratings, the average retail price, tasting notes and recommended food pairings. It also works on restaurant wine lists.
To date, Vivino users have scanned nearly 425 million labels and given 72 million ratings.
“We really wanted to focus on the average, normal wine drinker,” said Zachariassen. “Just people that love wine but don’t necessarily want to make it a hobby.”
Didn’t like feeling ‘stupid’
The 45-year-old entrepreneur grew up in the tiny Faroe Islands, which is located in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Norway, at a time when alcohol was prohibited. Moving to Copenhagen as a young adult led to some serious wine culture shock.
“I’m used to being smart, and when I felt stupid I did not like that,” he joked. “That could be a bit of a driver for this [app].”
Zachariassen launched Vivino in 2011, but it took two years for its database to grow big enough to create a “meaningful” product. In 2016, the startup secured $25 million in funding led by Moet Hennessy CEO Christophe Navarre.
Wine lovers have other app options — Delectable, for example, has more than a million users who have contributed roughly 5 million reviews. There are apps focused on food pairings (HelloVino) and comprehensive price comparisons (WineSearcher).
But Zachariassen isn’t just helping users pick a good bottle of wine — he’s selling it to them, too.
Ripe for disruption?
Wine worth over $40 million has been sold through Vivino, which recently launched a marketplace that makes recommendations to users based on which wines they’ve rated highly.
“Wine is a $300 billion industry and if you look at the online part of wine, e-commerce, it’s still very, very small,” said Zachariassen.
In 2016, just under 4% of U.S. wine sales ($2.3 billion) were shipped directly from producers to consumers, according to a report by ShipCompliant and Wines Vines Analytics. The rest was sold in “offline” establishments including grocery stores and restaurants.
Zachariassen believes wine retail can be disrupted in the same way that Amazon changed how consumers buy books.
“Suddenly it’s better to buy it at home than in the store, and that shift is going to happen in wine too,” he said. “This data has never been available before; now it is, so that’s going to change.”
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