If you know her from the BBC’s Apprentice then you will know Jackie Fast is going places. In fact having sold her sports sponsorship for an undisclosed sum before even stepping into Lord Sugar’s boardroom she has arguably already achieved more businesses success than most of us will achieve in our careers. She also certainly lives up to her name and is already trying to pin down prestigious listings in major on-trade accounts and luxury retailers for her premium Canadian ice wine brand, REBEL Pi, within a few weeks of its launch. Richard Siddle caught up with her to find out how she hopes to now crack the notoriously difficult UK premium wine market.
If you have watched Jackie Fast in action in the current series of The Apprentice then you will have seen what a stellar sales person she is. Impressing even Lord Sugar with her ability to close a deal and make some money. Her task now is to use those skills in selling her own Canadian ice wine brand – REBEL Pi.
For those people who do not know you from BBC’s The Apprentice what is your business background?
When I graduated university from Canada I came to London to backpack Europe – and ended up never going back. I’ve now been here almost 15 years. Initially I was just working to fund my exploration of Europe; however, when I decided to settle in the country I managed to get a job as a sponsorship manager at the Direct Marketing Association, which was very lucky as they helped me get my visa. My success within the organisation made me consider branching out, but I didn’t have any relevant sponsorship experience within London as much of it was sports based and I was doing B2B corporate sponsorship in my role.
When I was turned down for the commercial director role in the DMA, it spurred me to set up my own business Slingshot Sponsorship in my bedroom with only £2,000 and a laptop. Slingshot soon grew to a multi-million pound agency with four offices worldwide and clients including Sir Richard Branson and The Rolling Stones. In 2016 I sold my business and started exploring other opportunities. Having spent my entire career selling ideas which is pretty much just air, I was very determined that my next business would be product led. Something that I could touch, with properties that I could sell.
By a chance discovery, I landed on ice wine and set up REBEL Pi in 2018.
You have no background in the wine industry – so why an ice wine?
Being Canadian I have always been familiar with ice wine, but it was never something that resonated with me – I often found it much too sweet and also a bit ‘old school’. On a recent wine tasting trip I ended up getting into a fascinating conversation about the production of ice wine, which I had never heard before. It was the beautiful storytelling of ice wine production that sparked my interest because it is rare to find a product you are familiar with and has been around for a long time (ice wine has been produced for over 200 years) that you can truly ‘discover’.
Having spent a lot of time exploring products following the exit of my agency in 2016, this was the first time I got excited about something. But then lies the issues that I didn’t particularly like the product because it was so sweet – so I set off to try and make a less-sweet sweet wine. By using Roussanne, we strike that balance which is what makes our ice wine so exceptional and unlike any other ice wine or dessert wine currently available in the market.
How did you choose which vineyard/winery/winemaker to help you make the wine?
I had done a lot of research previously into vineyards in regards to an investment property, so the work and people I met across Canada in 2016 and 2017 led me to Paul & Julie at boutique winery Pentage in the Okanagan Valley, BC – which coincidentally is my birthplace. We clicked immediately and always kept in touch. When I had the crazy idea to make ice wine not sweet, Paul was the first person I asked to find out if it was even possible.
What style of ice wine have you looked to make and why?
I am no stranger to a good bottle of wine or an amazing meal, and yet I don’t know much about wine because it’s so complicated and I found fairly inaccessible unless you truly dedicated time to understanding it.
Interestingly, ice wine is much easier to grasp for the everyday consumer because it is not about the terroir, the varietal, the fermentation – it’s quite simply a grape being frozen then pressed. When you dive just a bit deeper you start to consider the implications of this type of production – for the drinker, for the winemaker, for the vineyard; and it becomes much easier to fall in love with the process and the product.
I feel that now more than ever before, consumers need to identify and understand the products that they consume. With information at our fingertips, it’s now easier to fall in love with a brand or product beyond it’s tactile properties. I feel that we have the capability to do that with REBEL Pi because it’s not only an amazing product, it’s also about the journey that led to the bottle and a consumer’s discovery of that journey. And of course, being able to share that discovery with friends – and nothing lends itself better to sharing than wine. Although all wines have a story – but there is something so magical about imagining a group of people huddled in the snow in the middle of the night picking frozen grapes by hand that touches ones heart that bit more.
How did you come up with the name of REBEL Pi?
I’ve always been known as a disruptor in my career (I won Media Disruptor Entrepreneur of the Year at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards) so I wanted to have a bit of my own personality in there, hence ‘Rebel’. Pi is to allude to the mathematical precision required to create a bottle and the care required to pick the grapes at exactly the right moment.
Ice wine is not a big market in the UK – is that not a problem for you?
We see that as a huge opportunity. As much as we want people to drink REBEL Pi, we are also happy for them to drink and learn about ice wine in general. We have little competition at the moment and hopefully once we prove the model works, we’ll pave the way for more Canadian ice wine to take the risk and start bringing their exceptional product to the UK. At present a lot of the good ice wine is reserved for domestic sales, and often just sold in the wine shop so it’s impossible to get your hands on. However, it’s something that anyone who likes wine, should try at least once!
How do you intend of spreading the word and getting people to give ice wine a go?
I’m approaching spreading awareness of my new business REBEL Pi in the same way I approached spreading the news about my last business Slingshot – pure hustling. All the time. I am not someone who will just sit around and wait for orders to come through, I will be stomping the pavements, going to events, writing about wine, and telling the world about it. Forbes summed me up as “relentless”, which is pretty apt in terms of my approach to business and how I will be forging into this new industry.
What is the target market for REBEL Pi in terms of the those in the trade buying it and then who they selling it to?
REBEL Pi is for someone who is inquisitive. Someone who doesn’t just order a bottle of Malbec or whatever the latest wine review says. Someone who has a palate that goes beyond meat and potatoes, and someone who is willing to take a chance on a new experience.
From a trade perspective, it really is about whether their organisation has these types of clients. Clients that ask questions and are interested in a bit of a discussion. What is special from a trade perspective is the likelihood that the sommelier or wine merchant can give a completely new wine experience to their client, which doesn’t really happen anymore. This is only possible because ice wine is so rare and at present most people haven’t tried it. This is what should get the trade excited about REBEL Pi.
It has a high price point – around £60 trade price and just under £140 to consumers per customer – do you see that as a challenge?
My mum always said “you get what you pay for” and in this case, the product speaks for itself.
Any successes so far in terms of listings and interest?
We have a lot of interest with some very high end restaurants and stockists. Having only launched in the UK in mid October, you should be seeing it on shelves just in time for Christmas!
A couple of Apprentice questions for you – as a successful business executive why did you decide to go into the Apprentice?
I decided to take a year off after I sold Slingshot to figure out what my next business would be, but during that time I had a lot of down time that I wasn’t used to. After watching an ad about applying for The Apprentice, I thought it was one way to help fill my day – it was just something for me to do and I didn’t put a lot of thought into it initially. I then ended up filling my diary with the many auditions, which inevitably led me to being accepted as a candidate.
What was the experience like?
The highs: Lots of highs, when you win it honestly does feel like the best thing in the world. I personally just loved doing all the tasks. The most memorable moment so far, even though I lost, was being Project Manager on the designer shoe.
The Lows: Converse to the many highs, there were also a lot of lows. It’s very isolating with almost no contact to the outside world, which helps you to stay focused, but also means everything seems much bigger than it actually is. Lots of emotional turmoil in the house with very diverse personalities.
Would you go do it again…if yes or no why…
Absolutely without hesitation. Where else could you have 10 different jobs in that short space of time. Was super exhilarating!
Tell us something about how the Apprentice is made that you don’t think we would know?
We get asked all the time and there are so many tweets about the fact that it must be a lie that we only have 20 minutes to get ready, but it is honestly the truth. Before I went into the house, I assumed they gave us clothes and we’d have hair and makeup people, but nothing could be farther from the truth. It is a marathon to just look decent at 4am and isn’t the most pleasant way to wake up!
In terms of how we get ready in 20 minutes and look like we’ve been in hair and makeup is all pre-planning, most of us shower and do our hair the night before so all you really have to do is throw on make up and most importantly for me, grab a coffee!
Have you kept in contact with the contestants afterwards?
Absolutely – some more than others!
Anything else you want to say?
Although The Apprentice is an entertainment show, it does surprisingly give you a lot of insight into real business strategy, specifically how to lead and motivate diverse teams, which is crucial to any successful business.
- If you would like any more information about Rebel Pi and to contact Jackie Fast then go to its website here.