This year’s wine and spirit Growth Brands Awards winners sold nearly 130 million 9-liter cases in 2015, averaging almost 1 million cases per winner. The Beverage Information & Insights Group used the following criteria to select this year’s Growth Brands winners, based on brands’ projected case sales for the 2015 calendar year:
Fast Track Brands have exceeded 100,000 nine-liter cases, with double-digit growth in each of the last four years. All Fast Track Brands are at least five years old.
Rising Star Brands are less than five years old and have exhibited growth during each year of their existence, reaching at least 20,000 nine-liter cases sold in 2015.
Established Growth Brands are top sellers in their category, moving a minimum of 400,000 nine-liter cases annually. They have also grown in sales over each of the past four years.
Comeback Brands are previous winners that have rebounded in sales to at least their previous winning level, following a recent decline.
Several wine brands enjoyed strong showings in 2015 thanks to a number of emerging trends and marketing tactics. One theme is a renewed focus on highlighting unique stories and authenticity. “Smart brands allow their fans to make a personal connection by seeing where the grapes are grown, aged and bottled,” explains Marina Velez, senior product manager, data and insights, The Beverage Information Group.
The overall economy is improving, and with that customer interest in premium brands is expanding. Higher price points are no longer a turnoff, but a point of intrigue and a mark of quality. Much of the wine industry’s growth last year came in the $10 to $15 price-point range.
“Wine brands are comfortable raising their prices in a way they weren’t during the recession,” Velez explains. “Consumers are continuing to trade up to the premium tier in wine, and we’ll continue to see that trend accelerate. We’re also seeing winemakers emphasize quality ingredients and artisanal processes as they compete against bourbon and craft beers.”
But affordability remains a strong selling point with wine. “As new brands continue to enter the premium segment, it puts pressure on similar brands to stay competitive, offering consumers great value,” Velez notes.
With the wine market today more competitive than ever, brands are capturing consumer interest and dollars with new and different varietals. “New wines that are attracting consumer attention are creating a niche for themselves within the industry, especially with Millennial consumers,” Velez says.
“The industry’s growth has come from newer products within their respective segments, such as blended red offerings,” she adds. “In addition, while Champagne growth has been soft, the majority of the category growth has been from other sparklers like prosecco and cava”
A number of wine brands hit major sales milestones in 2015. Established Growth Brand Ménage a Trois reached a whopping 2.7 million in nine-liter cases sold last year, a 9.2% increase over 2014. Meanwhile, E&J Gallo’s Dark Horse wine exceeded 1 million cases in 2015, a 320% hike over the previous year.
In the sparkling category, Mionetto surpassed 500,000 cases in 2015, up 10.2%. Overall, Nielsen data indicates that sparkling wine has seen a 32% increase. “We are at the forefront of the category’s growth,” says Enore Ceola, director and CEO of Mionetto USA.
Ceola attributes this success to “strong relationships we have maintained with our customers and distributor partners.” Mionetto also maintains a portfolio varied in price point, from the accessible cost of $12 to the $40 bottles.
Fast Track brand Seven Daughters from Terlato Wines grew to more 200,000 cases, thanks in large part to its focus on Millennials—particularly women. “Young consumers want authentic brands that tell a real story and enable them to learn and share,” explains Terlato Wines CEO Bill Terlato.
To that end, Seven Daughters linked up with lifestyle bloggers who shared party tips featuring Seven Daughters. The brand also sponsored Color Runs—in which runners get doused with colored powders—to “engage with our target one-on-one at fun, relevant events,” Terlato explains.
Rising Star Chateau d’Esclans rosé topped 100,000 cases for the first time, behind the strong performance of its Whispering Angel. Even with a $21 price tag, Whispering Angel is the fourth highest-selling French wine in America, says Paul Chevalier, national fine wine director for supplier Shaw-Ross International Importers.
“The people who drink these wines are Millennials who are ready to spend money on wine because they want that lifestyle image,” Chevalier explains. “And I think rosé might be the new champagne. It’s a weekend wine for celebrating with your friends and peers.”
A number of wines grew by more than 20% last year. Such a sizeable jump is no easy feat.
Simple Life attributes its 2016 Rising Star Award—and 42% growth—to “having chosen our partners wisely,” says Donny Sebastiani, president/CEO of Don Sebastiani & Sons. The company partners with growers who help produce “ripe pinot noir and chardonnay,” a distributor network that is “well-educated and motivated” and retailers who become ambassadors on behalf of the brand.
Duckhorn Vineyard, a Fast Track winner, enjoyed a jump of about 18,000 cases in 2015, representing 18.1% growth. Duckhorn Wine Co. attributes its success to consumers seeking out better wines, those defined by authenticity and craftsmanship. The brand’s waterfowl theme, which has become a recognizable symbol of quality—regardless of the varietal—is a powerful tool in a crowded marketplace, according to the company.
Fast Track winner 90+ Cellars grew 28.4% from 230,000 cases in 2014 to 295,000 in 2015 due to its strong reputation among consumers. “If people like our 90+ Cellars sauvignon blanc, when it comes time for them to choose a California cabernet, they are willing to give ours a try because we’ve earned their trust,” explains Brett Vankoski, vice president of supplier Latitude Beverage Co.
Another trend working in the favor of 90+ Cellars is that the $10 to $20 price category is growing in popularity. “90+ Cellars aims to offer the best value for wines priced in this range,” Vankoski adds.
Rising Star Freakshow pushed its unique branding as it doubled its cases sold from 44,000 in 2014 to 88,000 last year. This included a 6-ft.-tall “strong man” POS stand up poster, and coffin-inspired displays.
Melissa Phillips Stroud, vice president of sales and marketing for supplier Michael David Winery, also believes Freakshow has grown because “distributors have really gotten behind the brand. They talk about it, take it to parties and help show it off.”
Terlato Wines scored another Rising Star Growth Brand this year for The Federalist, a colonial-themed wine that found fans among Millennial males. In particular, the brand benefited from an app with which users could “Federalize” themselves in the style of The Federalist label art, and share messages with their friends.
Other marketing by The Federalist for Millennial men included traditional advertising, from fine wine media to more target-centric outlets such CNN, GQ and ESPN. Something worked: The brand’s sales shot up from 21,000 cases in 2014 to 110,000 last year—a 423.8% gain.
Santa Julia made our Growth Brand list in 2016 with a Comeback Award. After dipping to 147,000 cases in 2014 (following successive years of 162,000 and 158,000), the Argentine wine brand rebounded last year with 183,000 cases.
New packaging likely played a role in the turnaround. A redesigned label for Santa Julia Reserva “aimed to show the essence of the mountains of the Uco Valley in Mendoza,” explains Jordan Sager, vice president of supplier Winesellers Ltd.
Further tapping into the trends of authenticity and variety, the brand released Santa Julia Reserva Mountain. This line, launched exclusively for upscale grocer Whole Foods, “brought awareness of other unique varietals within the region,” Sager says. “The program was a huge success.”