Thursday, 12 November 2009

7th Continent Wines

Diageo is the world’s biggest drinks group with brands such as Johnny Walker, Baileys, Gordon’s, Guinness and countless others that are almost household names. Being formed from takeovers and mergers between spirits producers and breweries it never really had a presence in the wine market. That was until 2006 when it sent eyes rolling in sockets all over the drinks world with the announcement of a new Australian wine brand. In a retail environment ever more dominated by multi-nationals and multi-grocers, the trade could have been forgiven in thinking that it needed another million-case monster like a hole in the head. Bearing in mind however that Australia has been one of the most dynamic wine performers of the last decade, particularly in the UK and US, the lack of an Aussie wine in the group's portfolio had been glaring.

The name chosen for this brand was “7th Continent”, obviously identifying Australia, but Diageo surprised the trade even more by the totally different marketing strategy adopted. For a start it wasn’t a big, sweet, blowsy Blossom Hill type range with a Bush Tucker hat. Additionally Diageo eschewed the accepted wisdom that a brand needed to launch at 'entry-level' with two or three varietals, then move consumers up through a succession of reserves and premiums to some notional winemaker's indulgence. No, they went straight in at a £7.99/£8.49 level, but not as many other brands had done at this level just for the contrived purpose to be "Bogged Off" (BOGOF - buy one, get one free for the uninitiated) in the future to generate sales.

There were eventually up to 15 wines in the range, but the wines were not inter-regional blends of the sort that powered Australia to its dominant position in the UK, but were specific regional expressions. Here wine drinkers could compare and contrast Cabernets and Merlots from several individual regions, and see how a Hunter Valley Shiraz, a Clare Valley Riesling or an Adelaide Hills Viognier were far superior to multi-regional blended wines.

Diageo consciously wanted to make consumers reassess what they knew about Australia; to readdress the 'deep-cut, gondola end' imagery that had hurt the country's image over the last few years and to provide a trade-up brand for younger wine drinkers who came into the category through Australia, but had migrated elsewhere when looking for a special occasion wine.

The thinking was logical, laudable even – yet despite getting listings with Threshers, Tesco and others, the brand ultimately failed. Probably because the whole 'Brand Australia' hype had sunk deep into the psyche of the wine-buying public all over the world, getting across the regionality message proved hellishly difficult to achieve. Market research can show all it likes about consumers wanting a new, more upmarket Australia, but there's a big difference between the focus group and the supermarket aisle.

Their loss is our gain though, as is now able to offer some of this range at prices showing up to 40% less than the original prices. The original prices were genuinely in the £7.99/£8.49 range – not the false levels one sees everyday in supermarkets in the “Was £7.99 – now half price at £3.99” offers. As has been stated here and in the national press, such “half-price” offers are totally false – all of these wines promoted in this manner have been specifically produced to sell at £3.99 in the first place.

So, forget Lindemans, Hardy’s, etc and all the other multi-regional blends – experience the taste of regional Australia and see how trading up can bring you far better wines with individual characteristics. Except with our discounts, you don’t have to trade up in price.

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