We have been spoilt for choice over the last three months with the number of new ideas and innovations that have been introduced in response to Covid-19. Here David Rowledge, founder of Alchemy Wines, talks to Richard Siddle about a new community drinks brand that he believes has the potential to work across all drinks categories from wine, beers, spirits to soft drinks and water and raise money for drinks charities both during the crisis and for the long term.
Community.co is a new drinks brand that Alchemy Wines’ David Rowledge believes captures the spirit of the times.
David Rowldege of Alchemy Wines is looking to roll out a new charity drinks brand that can stretch across beers, wines, spirits, and soft drinks with the aim of raising money for the Drinks Trust and Grocery Aid.
He told The Buyer he had been planning for a while to create a brand that could give “something back to the community” but had to put his plans initially on hold due to the Covid-19 lockdown hitting parts of Europe, particularly Spain and France, where he had production and bottling lines set up.
The idea, though, has “snowballed” during the lockdown and he says he is now ready to push the button on his new Community.co brand concept that he hopes can gain traction in the coming weeks and months and work across a number of drinks categories both in the UK, but internationally too.
“I have the production element in place across my historical winemaking teams, including beers and water and potentially spirits. But I would like to get wines across the line first,” he says.
Rowledge is currently in talks with a number of major retailers, but is also open to offers for anyone who would like to get on board across the on and off-trades.
“The model is simple. We would look to see if the consumer would be happy to pay slightly more than usual. Take a £6.99 price point, for example, for a pair of wines from Spain. The retailer would give anywhere between 25p to 50p to each charity on a unit sold and we would try and maintain their margin between 25-35%,” he explains.
He is also in talks with the NHS to supply hospitals with a Community.co water brand and a no-alcohol beer if appropriate.
Working in partnership
Alchemy Wines has a long track record of working with its winery partners in key countries around the world to create both its own brands, but to work on exclusive lines and own labels for major retailers and operators. It has had considerable success internationally with the majority of its work now for export.
He has partnerships in place in France working with Boris Kovac, who helped Alchemy create its well respected Sandpiper brand. In Italy Alchemy has close ties with Casa Girelli and Colomba Bianca, Fernando Castro in Spain, Project Wine in Australia and is also looking to work with Freixenet Copestick, using its main production base in Hungary in partnership with Community.Co.
Rowldege, though, believes the Community.co brand is an excellent new vehicle to help create much needed funds for two of our major charities – The Drinks Trust and Grocery Aid.
He concedes it is not the best time to be trying to introduce a new drinks brand when buyers are so focused on just keeping their supplies in check and shelves full. But he hopes this is the kind of community and charity brand that can attract the right level of interest.
“I can understand when buyers say they are too busy to look at anything, but we can be incredibly flexible in how we work, so let’s see who we can work with,” he adds.
One approach could be to team up with an importer that already has shelf space who might be willing to partner with Commuity.co on a listing.
“The beauty of this is that we can do it across wines, beers, soft drinks and water. There are loads of different angles we can take, we just need to find a buyer buyer who loves it and want to go with it to take it to the next level.”
He says having developed so much business outside of the UK, Alchemy has been able to protect itself from the full force of Covid-19 and the lockdown, but things are also still tough right around the world. “We are working well in France and Spain, and doing a bit into Russia, but it is the Middle East that is going really well for us,” he adds. “We are also trying to do more in the US and Canada, particularly with our Sandpiper brand and we have multiple products going into China.”
He says his focus has switched to building up its international business after having had his “fingers burnt” a few too many times down the years in the UK and ended up feeling like a “busy fool” and “being squeezed and squeezed” a little too often.
“We are a production based business. We have taken the telescope, if you like, and switched it around to create wines that work in different markets. We start with a building block variety, say Sauvignon Blanc, and then work with our international distribution partners and retailers and ask, what do we need to make it work for your end consumers? Give us the style profile and we will create it for you. It engages our partners, so they feel part of the process,” he explains.
Which is why he has built up a team of growers and producers in key regions around the world that he “can pick and choose from” depending on what contract comes in. “We don’t own any of our own vineyards. We just know who to go to that can make X, Y or Z wine.”
What he is really looking for are brand concepts that can work in multiple markets – like Community.co.
Working around the world also opens your eyes to the opportunities there are to use the vast experience he has gained working in the UK.
He is particularly excited about the opportunity in the Middle East and Africa – which after all, he stresses, is the fastest growing wine market in the world. “If I could get 20 markets working like I have in Dubai then I would be very happy. We are nearly there in Japan and Canada as well. “
The key, he says, is to find the right distributors to work with in every market you are in. That allows you to fast track your growth there.
Rowledge is as fast talking as he in business, bouncing ideas here, there and everywhere. But his closing line is one that many in the trade can no doubt share: “I feel like I am at the bottom of a trampoline bounce. The investments we have put in place over the last 18 months means we are ready to open up multiple markets and gain extra listings when the world returns to some form of normality.”