We don’t need Charles Dickens to tell us we are all living through the “worst of times” but equally we can only do what is possible in our own personal and business lives to make the most of this extraordinary situation we all find ourselves in. It’s an approach, that typically, Robin Copestick is taking as he and the rest of the Freixenet Copestick team are using this moment to get on the front foot, be creative, act differently and actually turn what we can into the “best of times” when it comes to new product development, ideas and team building.
Robin Copestick, managing director of Freixenet Copestick, talks to Richard Siddle about the new innovations it is bringing to market including a new SuperHeroes initiative for its i Heart brand and a new wine brand launch to help African wildlife.
The only time you are ever going to see Robin Copestick in what you might a call mood or down in the dumps is when he has shanked a golf ball into the deep rough, or, in particular, his beloved Stoke City have lost (another) game.
When it comes to his business life then you are not going to find any better candidates for having a ‘glass half full’ attitude to getting things done. Only in Copestick’s case it rarely gets below three-quarters in the first place.
Not that everything in the world of Freixenet Copestick or his own business, Copestick Murray, before it has been completely plain sailing. For all the record sales growth, awards and high praise from across the wine industry, there have been dark days too.
But rather than sit back and moan, Copestick’s approach has always been how do we think and get ourselves out of this situation. Even arguably the business’ biggest success – the launch of i Heart wine in 2010 that is now in over 45 countries around the world and the UK’s 10th largest wine brand – came out of adversity.
What had been Copestick Murray’s almost unique position in the industry at the time, acting as a matchmaker, for both the major supermarket chains and big producers around the world, suddenly got into trouble when the major multiples worked out they could cut the middleman out of the chain and go and buy direct.
Copestick had to find a way to box the business out of a corner. The answer was to get everyone in the company into one room, pull the blinds down and say we are not leaving until we come up with a Plan B. That’s when the idea for i Heart, that started out as a simple doodle (thanks to Rachel Archer now at Off Piste Wine), was born.
At a crossroads
All these years later and the wine industry as a whole now finds itself at a similar crossroads to the one the Copestick Murray business faced back then. Its response has been to get its collective creative hats on and look at what it can do to think differently and work even more pro-actively than normal, he told The Buyer this week.
“You would think keeping that creativity going would be a challenge with everyone working from home, but it’s actually made us a lot more pro-active,” he explained.
It’s certainly helped him in his own role, which is focused on developing NPD with its retail customers and keeping on top of key supplier relations. “I am able to get their attention a lot more and have been a lot more productive over the last three weeks,” he added.
“We have decided to go for it. We are in a fortunate position in that we have good owners (the German sparkling wine giant Henkell Freixenet) who want us to carry on being entrepreneurial and not stop the flow of new product development.”
A time to create
Its front foot approach has seen the launch of a new brand under the i Heart label which truly captures the spirit of the times. It has developed I Heart Superheroes Prosecco with the tagline: “Not all superheroes wear capes!”
The usual iconic distinctive red heart logo has been replaced with a rainbow heart design, in keeping with the emblem of our times and the way households and families have been able to show their support for all NHS and essential workers by placing rainbow designs in their front windows.
As with the rest of the i Heart brand, the concept is clear and simple. Anyone can send in nominations for people they know, members of their family, or workers on the front line that they think deserve being sent a bottle of Superheroes Prosecco – that Freixenet Copestick has developed in partnership with specialist gifting business, Intervino.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Superheroes idea has really captured the imagination of the public. Within 48 hours of launching the iHeart Facebook page had received over 1,500 comments and nominations with hundreds more on its Instagram page. Its Facebook engagement is up over 70% and Instagram by 53% with a total campaign reach of around 35,000 on social media alone.
Initially the idea was to concentrate just on NHS staff, but the Freixenet Copestick team felt it was an opportunity to recognise everyone in our daily lives going the extra mile be it postal workers, delivery drivers, farmers, shop workers, or just your mum, dad or grandparents. An initial 2,500 personalised iHeart Superheroes bottles have been produced from which the winners will each be sent out a bottle.
The challenge for the team, said Copestick, was deciding who to recognise as it had been inundated with so many amazing stories.
Now the brand has caught the attention of the major retailers and talks are in place to expand production to 100,000 bottles and sell them in-store with Tesco and Sainsbury’s on board, along with a number of the major symbol group convenience chains.
“The margin for 100,000 bottles will be offset by the 2,500 bottles that will be given away as prizes. Meaning in effect there will be zero margin for Freixenet Copestick on the project,” he explained.
“The idea for the brand was to be less about donation, but how we do help people feel good about themselves,” he added. “We’ve had an amazing response to it.”
Care for Wild launch
Freixenet Copestick is about to introduce another new major brand which Copestick also believes is ideally suited to the time we are living in, and has the potential to go on and be a global brand and a big boost to the South African wine category.
It has forged a partnership with the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary NPC to create a new wine brand, and hopefully raise a lot of much needed money for this vital charity.
The Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary NPC looks to provide care and rehabilitation for not just rhinos, but a number of wildlife animals that are being caught up in poaching in South Africa. Founded by Petronel Nieuwoudt the sanctuary provides a safe place for what are now a large number of orphaned rhinos, where they can be cared for and eventually released back into the wild.
Copestick became aware of the charity when he sat next to the former England cricketer, Darren Gough, at Sainsbury’s 150 year anniversary dinner in December. Gough is also one of the supporters of the Care for Wild Rhino scheme.
“I was immediately captivated by the story and wanted to help,” he said. “The fact that Care for Wild is based in South Africa made it obvious for us to launch with a range of South African wines. It has happened really quite quickly.
“From a wine point of view I could see there was a big gap in the market. South Africa is making brilliant wine, but there is nothing really engaging the consumer from a brand point of view. This is an opportunity to create a good brand and donate to this important charity at the same time. It will also hopefully appeal to the modern generation of wine drinkers who like brands that have something more behind it.”
Freixenet Copestick will donate around 20% of all margin to the Care for Wild charity and will also be encouraging the retailers it works with to do support it as well. It is working on a number of fundraising ideas to help raise both money and also awareness of the initiative.
Talks are underway with “number of grocery retailers” and the brand will be launched in Slurp during the summer.
The label for the bottle was easy enough to come by as it is the same as the charity’s logo, added Copestick.
“This will not only support the brilliant work done by Care For Wild but also put some much needed life into the South African wine category which is in -6.4% decline in the UK.”
The range will initially include a value selection with a red blend, a white Sauvignon Blanc and pale rosé, with a RRP of £7 and a pair of premium wines with an RRP of £12 that will include a Sauvignon Blanc from a specific region and a Bordeaux blend from Stellenbosch.
Gough has been signed up as an ambassador for the wine and had dived right into his role, said Copestick, even hosting video meetings with interested supermarket groups. England cricket team mate Kevin Pietersen introduced the charity to Gough as he is also heavily involved in supporting its work.
As with the Superheroes launch Copestick said it was important to find ways in which the initiative went beyond just raising and donating money. “We hope we can help build and create something with this, rather than just put money into a pot. It’s hopefully good for South African wine as well.
“This is such an important charity in that is looking to get to the route of the problem and the people involved in poaching.There are so many poor people in townships who can think poaching is a good way to make money. So they invest a lot of time with education programmes in the townships.” …as well as saving baby rhino
Looking to its own future Freixenet Copestick is in a much stronger position than others in the wine and drinks industry as 85% of its business is through the off-trade, and in particularly the major multiples and symbol group convenience chains.
It also has a majority stake in Slurp, the online wine and retail business, that has really come into its own during the crisis with record sales, said Copestick, every week. “It’s gone completely bonkers.The last two weeks have been bigger than Christmas.”
It has, though, had to furlough around 5% of its staff, but only in situations where they would otherwise have had to be made redundant due to the on-trade “completely collapsing,” stressed Copestick. Where possible it has looked to relocate and re-position staff in other strong trading areas – like Slurp.
“We want to use the Job Retention Scheme in an ethical way and only for those jobs that would have been made redundant. I want to be in a position where I can bring them back as quickly as possible.
“Overall we are probably flat in terms of volumes, value and profitability,” said Copestick.
Like the rest of the wine industry meetings are now held via video conference, but it means, he said, rather than just fire emails to each other around an office, people want to break the routine of being at home and are quite happy arranging face to face catch-ups and creative sessions online.
“Our senior team meets up online at least twice a week (via GoTo meeting) and all the teams are at least daily on a video call. We even have a lunchtime fitness session that anyone can join in.”
Looking further ahead Copestick can see a picture emerging in the UK wine market that was similar to when we came out of the big recession in 2009.
“We saw a lot of interest in wine at that time, but it was very much at the entry level and there is a lot of focus on heavy discounting as people had less money to spend.”
As to the future of Freixenet Copestick? “We are constantly monitoring what is happening in the market. But we are determined that we are going to be here when we come through all this having been loyal to our staff and our suppliers and will be looking to keep things going as best as we possibly can.”
Right back on the front foot where he belongs. Darren Gough – and Geoffrey Boycott – would be proud of him.