Brand power key for Stevens Garnier

As the UK economy remains stagnant, Stevens Garnier managing director Matt Douglas has stressed the value of strong wine brands to underpin his plans for the business.

Matt Douglas, managing director of Stevens Garnier

Six months after he joined the Oxford-based merchant at the same time as its purchase by Portuguese firm Sogrape, Douglas admitted to the drinks business that stalled economic growth had made “a huge difference” to his plans to reinvigorate the company.

“What we want to do with Stevens Garnier is to clarify its position, which is to support our brands and our agencies,” outlined Douglas, who was previously operations director for the Argento Wine Company.

In particular, he insisted: “People do actually want the support of buying wine brands, especially when times are tough and when excise tax increases the base price of everything.

“We find things are moving very much towards our branded wines, which can offer provenance, history and authenticity.”

Pointing to the advantage in this respect of being owned by a company such as Sogrape, Douglas acknowledged “the relief of having the support of a stable shareholder, especially where your owner understands wine and brands.

“If anything it will allow us to attract bigger brands to our portfolio, because they want the surety of being in business with someone who understands their concerns and is reliable.”

Identifying “some big gaps” in the company’s portfolio, particularly across Australia, South Africa and Italy, Douglas acknowledged: “There’s a large amount of competition from people looking for the same types of agencies.”

However, he suggested that Sogrape offers Stevens Garnier an edge over many other merchants. He explained: “Having some brands and having the support of a brand-owning company, we won’t do people’s marketing for them, but we will be able to support their executions much better.”

With its Sogrape connection, Stevens Garnier also stands out as one of the UK’s few Portuguese specialists, a category which has struggled with its branding in the UK.

“The Sogrape philosophy is to support indigenous varieties,” explained Douglas, adding: “We have to find a way to make those varieties and styles relevant to the UK consumer.”

In particular, he noted: “We’re fortunate that Vinho Verde is very relevant for the UK consumer with its price, style and execution – that tall bottle is correct. We’ve done it in screw cap to fine tune the product characteristic.”

The challenge now, Douglas observed, is that “We need to find those sorts of solutions for Portuguese reds. You need to sell Portugal.

It’s an area where he believes there is plenty of work still to be done. “I would suggest that the brands available, apart from Tagus Creek, in the UK market aren’t really tailored to the UK consumer,” observed Douglas.

Again, he feels Stevens Garnier may be better placed than many in the UK to achieve this goal. “With the Sogrape connection we might be able to go back to them to provide the UK consumer’s requirements,” remarked Douglas.

In addition to the support provided by Sogrape, Douglas also highlighted the asset of Stevens Garnier’s 36-year history when it comes to standing out in a crowded market place.

As the company completed the final phase of its new UK roadshow this week, Douglas remarked: “We have some traction in the market from our name and where we’ve been. We want to rekindle that.”

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