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Brand California – Sweet Sixteen

d=”standfirst”>The Wine Institue of California has chosen 16 benchmark wines to promote Brand California in its new generic campaign.  Penny Boothman reports.

SUN, SEA and sand meets red, white and rose as the Californian wine industry presents a new united front with its recently announced Brand California campaign. The project was created with the intention of bringing together knowledge from all sources to develop a workable, affordable marketing strategy for the UK, and the Institute identifies its ultimate goal for the campaign as reaching 20% of the UK off-trade market, and claiming the number two spot from France, over the next three years.

The Institute has unveiled 16 benchmark wines, selected from a total of 331 entries, to represent the quality levels and range of styles that California has to offer, and to provide an approachable, accessible offering for the consumer. 

"The campaign is sensibly focusing on wines above £5," comments Sainsbury’s wine buyer for North America, Andrew Bird. “California needs little help in gaining listings and driving sales under this price point, even if the listings are dominated by a small number of wellresourced producers.”

However, creating such a selection is only the first step, and promotion will be crucial. “Consumer perception will only be affected if key influencers (ie journalists) agree that the benchmark wines offer outstanding value, and advertise them to their audience,” Bird explains. The benchmark selection will be featured at a range of trade and consumer promotions over the next nine months, starting with the BBC Good Food Show.

Accentuate the positive

Prior to rolling out this new campaign the research specialists Wine Intelligence to get a clear and realistic picture of where California currently stands in the UK market. The research deliberately highlighted the negative points of the image and performance of Californian wine. Overall, the two principal issues identified were that Californian wines are not perceived to have a broad enough offer for the critical £5-£7 price band and are losing out in this growing sector; and, perhaps more worrying, that Californian wines are percieved to be underperforming against the three key measures of quality, value and diversity.

“We know that California has not been the most responsive, proactive or adventurous country of origin in the past five years,” comments David Cox, MD Europe of Brown-Forman wines. However,  promotional support and the diversity that the trade requires and they must look beyond the ‘two big brands’ and take a fresh look,” he continues. “This message must be brought home eloquently and effectively by the Wine Institute.”

The rise of Chilean wines in the last year has shown how a good generic campaign can boost a country’s image and significantly increase sales, so the response was understandably positive from Californian wine producers. Tim Roach, vice-president of international marketing at E&J Gallo, comments: “We were fighting with one arm behind our backs, now we can bring out the other arm.”

However, in many ways the battle is just beginning. Cox argues: “Although, as producers, we feel that Brand California needs to reach out more to consumers, we believe we have a big job to do first to convince the major ‘gatekeepers’ in the retail and on-trade sectors that they should be devoting more attention, shelfspace, range, wine-list space and promotional support to Californian Wine. This is a huge priority for the Wine Institute as we see it, especially in the on-trade where we are hugely under-represented.” 

The need for more work in this sector has already been addressed. “This is by no means just a campaign for the off-trade,” comments John McLaren, UK director of the Wine Institute of California. “On-trade buyers are looking for wines in a similar price bracket that translate to about £15£20 on their lists – those are front-of-list prices rather than just a token higherpriced Californian wine at the back of the list. There is a raft of Californian wines that are not strongly branded that the ontrade can really get their teeth into.”

These plans are set against the backdrop of a very successful year last year. Growth was significant and volumes rose 27% in the UK off-trade (ACNielsen). Projected growth is based on this, and the Wine Institute has set a fairly conservative goal of reaching sales of 18.5m cases in total exports to the UK market by 2007. And the future looks promising. “We are, after all, working from a great base where consumers have a positive image of California and they seem to like the wines,” says Cox. 

“We know from the huge success and growth that California is experiencing that consumers do like California wine,” he continues. “Brand California needs to put glasses in peoples hands. We need an innovative but comprehensive campaign of consumer tastings and it appears that this is what is planned.” 

Brand California has more to offer in terms of imagery than many other wine producing regions and John McLaren believes the aspirational quality of the California beach lifestyle could work as a pull to the category. However, one reason for generating the campaign is that California has until now lacked a strong brand identity, and this could be partly due to the fact that it usually does not get its own signage in the wine aisles. Wine consultant Allan Cheeseman says: “A region that sells 10m boxes merits its own signage – Bulgaria gets its own signage and it has 0.9% of the market!” 

Nick Room, buyer for North America at Waitrose comments: “One of the things we are trying to do is to convert ‘Americas’ in our wine list to be California, Chile, Argentina, etc, to give Brand California more distinction. Whether this follows through on-shelf or not is a medium-term issue as we need the rest of the business to determine the best ‘labels’ for product area descriptions.”

Some collaboration with the major multiples would certainly be useful. “It would be beneficial to Californian wine to see the Wine Institute becoming more proactive with retailers by sponsoring tasting activity, using retailers’ direct marketing and online media or using their own branding on in-store point of sale,” comments Bird.

The campaign has so far generated a positive reaction from the trade. “The response has been fantastic,” says McLaren. “The retail buyers are really impressed – especially the ones who weren’t at the initial presentation. They really seem to get the logic of the campaign and they think it’s great to see California re-inventing itself – it’s a great opportunity for the wine industry as a whole."

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