• The Uncommon targets on-trade for GB wine-in-a-can growth

    Entrepreneurs Henry Connell and Alex Thraves shook up the English wine industry when in 2018 they launched The Uncommon, the first ever English sparkling wine in a can. Their Bacchus, with grapes sourced from Denbies in Surrey, sold out at Selfridges within six months. The Uncommon has this year landed a distribution deal with Jascots Wine Merchants, shifting the focus to the on-trade. Here, as English Wine Week begins, The Buyer speaks with co-founder Henry Connell about how The Uncommon is opening up new audiences for English sparkling wines, and premium canned wines.

    Entrepreneurs Henry Connell and Alex Thraves shook up the English wine industry when in 2018 they launched The Uncommon, the first ever English sparkling wine in a can. Their Bacchus, with grapes sourced from Denbies in Surrey, sold out at Selfridges within six months. The Uncommon has this year landed a distribution deal with Jascots Wine Merchants, shifting the focus to the on-trade. Here, as English Wine Week begins, The Buyer speaks with co-founder Henry Connell about how The Uncommon is opening up new audiences for English sparkling wines, and premium canned wines.

    mm By May 24, 2019

    English and Welsh wine is on a roll right now having produced 15.6 million bottles of wine last year and picking up 138 awards at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

    Henry Connell had been working in finance in New York when he realised he would not be able “to face another 30 years working in an office” as he explains. He knew English wine production was on the up and thought he could return home and live a quiet country life on a small vineyard somewhere. It was around this time that he also noticed an explosion in the canned wine scene in the US, from Oregon to California. Connell knew this had never been done before in England, and set out to be the first to can English wine.

    Upon returning to England, Connell completed a course at Plumpton College and also spent time at Nyetimber and Hattingley Valley gaining hands-on experience before developing his brand. He then partnered with Alex Thraves who was working as a freelance designer and had done some work for Connell in the past. Looking back at the developmental stages of The Uncommon, Connell explains, “I figured if I was going to have any credibility whatsoever, I needed to earn my stripes. We are not experts, but we are certainly not novices.”

    The Uncommon
    Alex Thraves and Henry Connell (l-r)

    A brand that is unapologetically English

    When asked about what excites Connell and Thraves about the English wine industry, Connell enthusiastically shares that there is “an opportunity to be unapologetically English and do fun things.” He believes that their canned wines can supplement the burgeoning English wine industry. He continues, “What I like about New World wines is that they are not restricted by rules and regulations so they can blend whatever they like and do creative and fun things. We have a younger wine consumer who would spend £6 on The Uncommon.”

    The Uncommon has also set out to, in effect, normalise canned wine and demonstrate that there can be a premium category. They are targeting open-minded consumers who might never have tried English wines before. Similarly, they are targeting the the consumer who drinks and appreciates English wine, and is open-minded about trying different formats – someone who is willing to pay £5 for a can of The Uncommon, despite the fact that the perception of canned wine in England is still changing.

    “A lot of these other wines are party wines – festivals, or drinking on the train before going out. We can be those things too, but we want people to appreciate the wine and what has gone into it,” says Connell.

    Uncommon

    The launch

    The Uncommon’s first wine was a Bacchus from grapes grown at Denbies Wine Estate in Surrey and made using the Charmat method. The wine is packaged in 250 ml sleek, aluminium cans that are 100% recyclable and lightweight, delivering a footprint that is 80% lighter than glass. Each can of The Uncommon is also quirky and quintessentially British in its design. Botanical illustrations featuring a giraffe (Gerald – the first wine) showcase on the front, while the back carries different descriptions as to what the wine pairs perfectly with, such as the 17.01 from Waterloo, a festival mud bath, or a picnic on the Rye.

    The wine launched at Selfridges in April 2018 with 10,000 units, and sold out within six months. Sampling sessions were held on the Selfridges shop floor and Connell recalls, “When we did the sampling, people were first drawn to the branding. People love the illustrations and then there is a bit of shock that England makes wine, and then wine in a can. The amount of negative feedback was almost non-existent. It is an educational process and we can talk about the branding, the fact that the grapes are home grown, and then educate the consumer about English wine and why we do it the way we do it. 99% of the feedback is positive.”

    Building on last year’s success

    This spring, The Uncommon has launched the 2018 vintage of Gerald and also launched a rosé named Eleanor made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes grown in Kent and Hampshire. The front of Eleanor depicts a swan surrounded by flowers and red fruits to illustrate the flavours in the wine. The elegant branding is another way in which The Uncommon is educating consumers about English wines. Connell explains that “the illustrations represent the wines inside the can and help to develop the two characters. One is more aromatic and floral (Gerald), the other more is more fruity (Eleanor).”

    The Uncommon 2018 Bacchus Bubbly White and Pinot Noir Bubbly Rosé were available exclusively in Selfridges from April for one month (RRP £4.99 and £5.99 respectively), before rolling out into Waitrose stores from 20thMay.

    Uncommon
    Great store is placed in the Victorian-style visual imagery of the brand. Here @kikeyido designs the new label for Eleanor – the new rosé

    An on-trade focus with getting the price point right

    Earlier this year, The Uncommon announced that they had teamed up with Jascots Wine Merchants to distribute to the London on-trade. Connell reveals that they have big plans for the on-trade and Jascots is already in contact with a number of bars and high end restaurants in the capital.

    “The on-trade is a big growth market for us,” says Connell, “but the trick is getting pricing right. With the on-trade mark-up we are looking at £10 – £12 per can. We have to educate consumers that the serve size is actually equivalent to two drinks.”

    The Uncommon is now available at the Coral Room at the Bloomsbury Hotel where the team developed a Coral Spritz and Bacchus Aperitif to celebrate London Wine Week in mid-May. The Uncommon has also teamed up with premium pub chain Cirrus Inns at a number of their bars. The cans will be served in ice buckets along with oysters and a cold platter.

    In terms of other plans to make the wines more appealing to the on-trade, The Uncommon is working with mixologists to develop cocktail recipes, but the team want to allow bars to let their creativity flow and do what best appeals to their customers. Connell believes that a single serve option is appealing to bartenders who often have to throw away bottles when making single drinks.

    Plans for the future

    The Uncommon has certainly kicked off 2019 with lots of momentum, upping production from 15,000 to 150,000 units, launching their second vintage at Selfridges, then securing a listing at Waitrose and teaming up with Jascots to target the on-trade. The team has also invested in its own vineyard and started planting Bacchus, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier in Kent. The Uncommon is growing quickly, so what is next for the brand that is making waves in the English wine scene?

    “We want to be a nationally recognised wine brand, our focus is on the UK at the moment but we have had interest from Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa,” reveals Connell.

    “We want to develop new wines and we also know that the low alcohol segment is growing. The generation below us is boozing less, so we would like to look into developing some low alcohol stuff, or non-alcoholic English infusions.”

    An urban winery in Peckham might not be far off as well, but Connell explains that they are still looking for the right space.

    You can keep up to date with The Uncommon by visiting their website and following them on Instagram from which the images used in this feature are taken from.

     English Wine Week runs from May 25 until June 2.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *