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Review – Beanz Meanz

d=”standfirst”>… Heinz – as everyone knows only too well. Will the wine industry ever contain such widely recognised brands? Patrick Schmitt and Robyn Lewis report

IFyou were to stop someone in the street and ask a them to name a handful of brands it’s highly unlikely they’d come up with Gallo, Jacob’s Creek, Blossom Hill or indeed any wine label. Coca Cola, Kellogg’s and Heinz on the other hand would almost certainly feature, as might Ford, Marlboro and Persil. This is because there are very few hard brands in the wine market, and even “the hard brands are a bit squishy at the edges,” as CorpBrand’s Colin Porter once memorably commented. “If you look at the FMCG market in any sector you will have the brand leader and you will have a number two and you might just have a number three and then you will have own-label, but you won’t have 500 different brands … Coke commands 60% of its category, Blossom Hill is about 3.5% of the off-trade wine market.” This means of course there’s a limit to how much scope there is for building a really powerful brand in the wine aisles, but, when it comes to the top 10 or 15 wines in the UK off-trade, it’s probably fair to say consumers will at least recognise the label. Furthermore, the top 15 represent around 25% of the wine market and that figure is growing.

In other words, having an established wine brand is paying dividends. So, how do you go about building one?

With difficulty, it must be said, not least because there’s little common agreement on what exactly a brand is. Furthermore, there are different approaches depending on what you want to achieve, and at which price point you want to achieve it. But, firstly, Deb Worton, HwCg’s marketing and PR director, gives a good definition of a brand, believing it to be something that’s “identifiable, identifiably different and generates an emotional response from the consumer. A brand gives the consumer reassurance and allows him or her to feel a safe choice is being made.” Furthermore, Keith Lay, marketing director at Ehrmanns, adds that a brand is “something you deliberately buy on a regular basis.” For this reason Lay believes brands are not built purely on the basis of volumes sold. “There are very few big wine brands that are bought by many people consciously time and time again, however there are many smaller ones. It is perfectly possible to have a niche brand that has some value.” Which of course means one could question the supposition by some that the wine market is largely un-branded. Rather it is branded, but it lacks high volume brands. 

Taste and tradition

In which case, if achieving massive sales isn’t key to becoming a brand, what is? Well, for a start, the nature of the product is key. When it comes to mainstream wine brands for instance, what’s in the bottle has to be “relatively easy drinking,” according to Lay. “It also needs to be a flexible wine for many occasions and one that can be drunk with or without food.”

Consistency is also important, as long as the product’s good in the first place, while authenticity can be central to building a reputation. And interestingly, as Andrew Lamberth, general manager for sales and marketing at Boyar Estates, notes, “although the market has benefitted from the demystification process championed by the chain retailers among others, one of the wine category’s key selling points is the complexity itself – the tradition, regionality and romance. The trick is to offer the consumer authenticity in an approachable way. You’re never going to build a successful brand long-term by going the “great with beans on toast” route. 

Do your homework

At the very concept stage, before even the exact wine blend has been chosen, most agree it’s useful to conduct some sort of market research when it comes to brand building. “Without market research you have no chance of getting close to consumers,” says Martin Pinner from the Waverley Group. “It is no guarantee of success, but it points you in the right direction and more importantly indicates where not to go.” Similarly, Worton argues “how can you create a brand without understanding the consumer’s needs and the market? You have to get out there and ask questions.” Furthermore, to ensure a brand generates demand, you must initially identify where it’s needed. “Brand owners must consider the market and spot the gaps,” notes Worton. “This gives the opportunity to exploit the need in a way that benefits all: the buyer, the end consumer and the brand owner.” 

Then of course there’s understanding what drives consumer choice. However, as Boyar Estates’ Lamberth warns, “market research is a useful too, but over-reliance on it in new product development can stifle genuine innovation.”

Money talks …

Then of course there’s the question of money. Can you buy yourself a brand? “Money helps,” says Pamela Dunn, PLB’s marketing manager, before adding that “communicating the brand assets can cost money, but there are lots of different routes to market.” And, as she warns, “throwing money behind BOGOFS does not create a brand – unfortunately this is what people in the wine industry presume.” Worton uses the example of Blossom Hill – a brand that achieved success in the early days “with a fairly moderate amount of support. However, to get really big in the current competitive climate, you need serious investment in the brand.” For instance, Fratelli Martini’s Dermot Magee puts the Italian wine brand Canti’s success partly down to “putting the money up long before the volume was there,” and admits that although the approach was costly – “there was a lot of promotional support and we had to pay for it” – the result was positive: “It meant that a lot of people tried it [Canti].”

Nevertheless, “good brand development is never going to be about simply spending large sums of money and big bucks are no guarantee you’ll make it,” according to Worton, using Blason de Bourgogne as an example of a product enjoying sales growth with modest support. Similarly, Paul Evans from First Drinks believes that although “investment helps”, a “compelling consumer proposition” means “you can be clever with your brand strategies.” He uses Noilly Prat as an example. “It has done very little consumer communication over the last few years but has an intensely loyal following.” Finally on the subject, Damien Carrington, marketing manager at Enotria says: “I very much like a quote used by one of the agencies that we use – you don’t have to outspend the competition, you need to out think them.” 

Causes for concern

Interestingly however, a common mistake by brand owners is to think that having a good wine is enough. “In the wine industry there is a sense that it is all about the wine and it isn’t,” says Lay. “Lots of brands do not invest in the brand properly and then find it’s delisted as the rate of sale wasn’t high enough. But you have to be out there doing things to persuade people to buy your brand.” 

Other errors include “taking the ‘metoo’ route of slavishly following an already successful product in the hope of replicating its success,” notes Lamberth, adding: “I can’t see the raft of Kumala clones giving anyone at Western Wines too many sleepness nights.” On the other hand, Pinner comments on the potential problem of “underestimating the up-front cost involved in securing distribution, promotional activity and recruiting users.” 

But basically, as Dunn notes, a major mistake is “producing a bottle with a label and assuming that makes a brand.” And hence the need for all those other elements, the right style of liquid, not forgetting memorable packaging, a catchy name etc.

Brand bias

And for the market as a whole, as was mentioned at the outset, growth is occurring at the branded end of the wine world. “The top 15 brands account for 25% of the total wine market and have grown 11% year on year against a market which has grown at 3% year on year (volume),” says Worton. And the supermarkets – which account for 70% of the market – seem to be becoming more brand orientated. As Carrington says, “there is growing polarisation between own-label (the supermarket own brand) and the big brand, leaving little room in the middle.”

Lastly, explaining this phenomenon, Pinner comments: “Supermarkets have and always will be driven by how much money they can make per linear foot (or the metric equivalent). Since brands are driving the main growth in the light wine market, they have to figure very high in the category plan.” 

For this reason, and the fact brands are taking an ever greater share of the on-trade too, it’s certainly worth investing in more than just winemaking, although the costs of getting a brand on the shelf should never be at the expense of quality control at source. After all, the best brands, like Heinz, have earned their reputation over time, and brand longevity is most closely connected with what’s in the can, or bottle in this case, not what’s on the label, or in the promotional budget cupboard.

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