Like the larger beverage market, the wine industry was affected this year—positively and negatively—by consumers trending toward occasion-based drinking. This year’s Growth Brand winners include stalwart brands able to keep up with shifting wine preferences, as well as newcomers that are expanding the traditional definition of wine.
“The wine industry is facing its most competitive market in history, causing many quality brands to post flat or slightly declined sales,” says Adam Rogers, manager of information services for the Beverage Information & Insights Group, the research unit of Cheers’ parent company. “This year’s growth has come primarily from newer products in certain segments, such as red blends, prosecco and cava. These new wines are attracting a lot of attention, especially with Millennial consumers, and creating a niche for themselves within the industry.”
Rogers points out that quality table-wine brands, such as Leese-Fitch, were noticeably absent from this year’s list. Previous Fast Track winners in many cases did not grow the necessary 10% in 2014 to remain in that category, and also haven’t reached 400,000 nine-liter cases to qualify as an Established Growth brand. But the winners do include first timers that capitalized on industry trends.
Myx Fusion, a combination of sparkling moscato wine and fruit juices launched in 2013, is one example. “Myx Fusion’s first-year case sales were very impressive, which translates back to creating a niche through spokeswoman Nicki Minaj,” Rogers says.
Spanning the Portfolio
A number of wines, both mature brands and newcomers, from the Delicato Family Vineyards family earned Growth Brand Awards this year. Despite falling under a single supplier, Belle Ambiance, Gnarly Head and HandCraft each represent a different target consumer and a different stage of the brand growth cycle.
“The 2014 launch of Belle Ambiance was the largest in Delicato Family Vineyards history,” says brand manager Charene Beltramo. “The brand was embraced early by distributors and retailers. For 2015, our promotions include a significant focus on wedding season, which presents opportunities with all channels at different times of the year.”
HandCraft launched three years ago. The brand’s proprietor, third-generation vintner Cheryl Indelicato, is an active supporter of breast cancer awareness and has contributed more than $220,000 toward finding a cure.
“Cheryl’s exposure in market as an active participant at the street level has resonated with consumers and been a major factor in the continued growth of the brand,” Beltramo says. “HandCraft will be involving consumers in multiple interactive campaigns tied to breast cancer awareness in 2015.”
In addition to community outreach through its involvement with the Lynne Sage Foundation for cancer research, which sees specific consumer opt-in activations at retail, the brand is also launching a pinot grigio and malbec to the portfolio this year.
As a more mature brand in the DFV portfolio at 10 years old, Gnarly Head has built brand awareness out-of-store through social media and digital campaigns, as well as working with retailers to create impactful POS.
“Innovation has also been a key cornerstone for our brand,” says brand director Nick Banuelos. “The launch of Authentic Black, a limited-release red blend in the fall, sold out in less than 30 days and provided incremental volume for the brand.”
Gnarly Head this year plans to use mobile-influenced, in-store sales driving platforms. It’s a category that the brand believes will grow tremendously in the next few years as mobile applications allow rich communication with consumers and drive traffic into retail locations.
Giving Consumers a Taste
Soleil Mimosa’s key to success is simple: “We believe that our most effective marketing and promotion programs have been to get our wine into consumers’ hands,” says Sandra Pacheco, national sales director for Southwest Wines. “We’ve done that by working with our retail and on-premise partners to conduct demonstrations and tastings, where consumers are able to taste the quality of our product for themselves.”
Ron Barcelo has seen similar success with its tasting program. “Barcelo was promoted through tastings in both the on- and off-premise in key markets,” says Nick James, vice president/senior brand manager, Shaw-Ross International Importers. “We believe the quality of the product speaks for itself once consumers experience it.”
Winesellers brand Gran Passione earned a Rising Star award for the first time this year, thanks largely to a Wines of Italy national promotion with Whole Foods Market in 2014. It was selected as one of eight wines featured in the program and represented red wines from Northern Italy.
“The program was a huge success,” says vice president of national accounts Jordan Sager. “We devoted a fair share of resources to build a strong marketing and sales campaign to lift the profile of the entire Gran Passion range in both on- and off-premise.”
The company’s other Growth Brand winner, La Fiera, is one of two Comeback Brands on this year’s list. Since its launch in 2010 the brand had experienced consistent sales growth, until supply issues in 2013 led to stagnant sales. The value-driven Italian brand added a Sicilian Moscato and Bianco & Rosso blend in 2014, leading to increased sales and the Comeback Brand recognition.
“We intend to maintain our competitive pricing structure to appeal to retail consumers and attract new by-the-glass restaurant business in 2015 to maintain the momentum,” Sager says.
Identifying the Growth Brands
The Beverage Information & Insights Group uses the following criteria to select this year’s Growth Brand winners, based on the distilled spirit or wine brand’s projected case sales for the 2014 calendar year:
Fast Track Growth Brands must have exceeded 100,000 nine-liter cases, with double-digit growth in each of the last four years. All Fast Track Brands must also be at least five years old.
Rising Star Growth Brands must be less than five full years old and have exhibited notable growth in the past few years, reaching at least 20,000 nine-liter cases in 2014.
Established Growth Brands must be a top seller in their category, moving a minimum of 400,000 nine-liter cases annually. They must also have grown moderately or substantially in each of the past four years.
Comeback Growth Brands include previous winners that have rebounded in sales to at least their previous level, following a recent decline.