Great wines from grumpy old men

The marketing of super premium wines

In a recent edition of Off Licence News, Tim Atkin asked for a “re-evaluation of what constitutes fine wine”. This followed his plea that certain wines of the Languedoc should receive greater recognition. Other commentators might well echo his sentiments but champion the cause of other regions. For my own part, I am indirectly involved in the attempts of English sparkling wine producers to be perceived as on a par with the top Champagnes.

Whatever the region, any producer that seeks to break into the ranks of established fine, or super-premium, wine brands has a real task on their hands, given in many cases their strong trade and consumer franchise. As a first hurdle, the quality of the actual wine needs to reach a level where it achieves endorsement by opinion formers. Commensurate with that, an appropriate sales and marketing programme needs to be developed, and then consistently implemented over a number of years to optimise the chances of success.

The anti-laws of marketing

This came to mind as I belatedly read a critique by Louise Jack of The Luxury Strategy – published in 2009 – which argues that luxury brands should throw away conventional, tried-and-tested marketing principles .The authors in fact propose 18 “anti-laws of marketing” for such brands to follow.

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Going regional: why the New World should bother

Read any interview with Michael Cox, Yvonne May or Jo Wehring – or an individual producer of premium wines in Australia, Chile or South Africa – and you’ll spot a common theme. They’re almost certain to vent their frustration that the quality of their premium offer is not being sufficiently recognised, either by the trade or the consumer.

I was recently invited to speak at a conference in Australia, to offer my own ideas on the way forward for that country’s wine industry. One of my main conclusions was that Brand Australia needs to be segmented.

I am really impressed by the generic work of Yvonne May and her UK-based team, and the diversity of style and quality of premium Australian wine has clearly never been greater.

But the reality is that, partly due to years of heavy discounting at the lower end, the target consumer in the UK does not regard Australia as a source of premium wines – at least, not to the extent that the Australians would like them to. There is, therefore, a very large gap between perception and reality.

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In the kingdom of the blind tasting

The wine industry has more in common with The X Factor than it does with The Voice

For those of you who watched any of The Voice last year, I wonder if you were struck – as I was – by the similarity between the programme and the process of blind tasting which plays such an important role in our industry.

If you are unfamiliar with the series, all you need to know is that it was an attempt to judge contestants’ voices in isolation from their appearance. I thought the intention laudable: after all, there must be great singers out there who fail to realise their potential because they don’t look the part.

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The diversity and complexity of the wine category: friend or foe?

Lessons from other categories and the search for the sweet spot

I have in front of me a packet of potato crisps, sea salt flavoured, in which the salt comes specifically from Maldon in Essex.

It’s a perfect example of how the potato crisp sector has reinvented itself over the past decade. It now has layers of complexity which are astonishing to people like myself, who can remember when even smoky bacon seemed a little edgy. The once humble crisp is now at one with the zeitgeist; there’s provenance and naturalness, and vegetarian options, and for all I know there may even be a biodynamic brand out there.

And the potato crisp is not alone in reinventing itself. In fact it’s difficult to think of any food and beverage sector which has not moved in a similar direction over the past decade. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, yogurt, breakfast cereals … the list goes on.

So what is going on here? Well I don’t feel it’s that complicated. Adding complexity of this kind, in the form of premium range extensions, has added value and therefore profitability to these categories.

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