The outbreak of Covid-19 has hit the drinks and wine industry the world over. None more so than in South Africa which is again going through a national lockdown of all domestic wine sales with potentially a devastating impact on the country’s wine network. It has also made wine businesses think and act differently, particularly with the boom in online sales. In keeping with that new spirit of innovation, creativity and collaboration, three South African wine producers – Bruce Jack of Bruce Jack Wines, Ross Sleet of Rascallion Wine and De Villiers Graaff of De Grendel wines – have come together to launch a new, and potentially unique direct to consumer concept for the wine industry. Together they have set up a non-for-profit platform called Mind Map Wine Company that they are launching in the UK to act not as a competitor to their usual retail and on-trade channels to market, but to be an active partner to them, helping to raise the awareness of their brands and connect directly and with consumers. They hope to sign up more like-minded producers from around the world to join them in the months ahead. In our latest The Buyer video interview Richard Siddle caught up with Bruce Jack and Ross Sleet to talk through the new DTC platform, but also assess the current state and impact of the South African domestic wine lockdown.
Innovating, re-creating and collaborating yourself through a crisis is very much at the heart of the new DTC Mind Map Wine Company.
(Click here to watch the full interview with Bruce Jack and Ross Sleet on the situation in South Africa and then how the DTC Mind Map Wine Company is going to work)
The situation in South Africa, where the government has gone through a series of lockdowns for its wine industry, initially both domestically and internationally, and now, again with the banning of all alcohol sales across the country, is pushing many producers, distributors, retailers and restaurants to the brink (22 minutes and 15 seconds).
In fact conditions has now got so severe that Bruce Jack and Ross Sleet fear large numbers of businesses across the wine industry – and all the sectors it supports, from restaurants to retailers – may not survive what is expected to be a further seven weeks of shut down. Particularly as it follows the initial three month domestic clampdown, including a five-week export ban, of all alcohol sales from March 27 to the beginning of June.
(Click here for Bruce Jack and Ross Sleet on the South African clampdown impact and situation).
But it has not quashed the spirit of its people, or the ability of its business leaders to think and act differently in order to, yes, survive, but also try and find new ways to work that can help them in the long term.
Time to collaborate
Throughout all the innovations we have seen during the Covid-19 crisis, the one theme that really stands out is collaboration. How fast companies have come together to both help each other out, be it with finding routes to market for wine unable to be sold in the on-trade, or actually finding new ways to work with each other in ways that were probably not possible, or, at least, far harder to make happen prior to the pandemic.
It has been an extraordinary time in terms of how quickly businesses have been able to respond, adapt and, in many cases, transform the way they work – in order to not just cope with Covid-19, but make them viable and relevant business concerns in the long term.
Which is very much what the new Mind Map Wine Company is all about. The brainchild of Bruce Jack of Bruce Jack Wines, it is now a collaboration of initially two fellow, and like minded South African wine businesses and producers – Ross Sleet of Rascallion Wines and De Villiers Graaff of De Grendel wines – with the potential of bringing more kindred spirit producers on board, from around the world down the line.
The concept, believes Jack, “has not been done before in the wine industry”. Not, clearly, the direct to consumer bit, but the fact it’s a “collaborative not-for-profit platform”. That’s the crucial difference, he says. “We’re not trying to make money out of it. It’s not an agency model,” he stresses.
(Click here for Bruce Jack on the Mind Map Wine Company)
New route to market
What he and his partner producers want to do is not in any way act as a competitor to their retail customers and distributors in the UK. They want the Mind Map Wine Company to be an additional route for their target consumers to use, to act, if you like, as a promotional vehicle where they can each tell so much more about their story, and interact directly with consumers who want to get to know them better.
It’s about far more than simply selling wine, it’s about engaging with the consumer, says Jack, in a way that builds the brand “for all its retail partners” both in the on as well as off-trade – and “give it more exposure”. “We are not there to compete.”
“We are not bypassing the traditional route,” stresses Jack. “This is a way to communicate to consumer that has not been done before in wine.”
How it will work is as follows:
- all wine is shipped at the producers own expense to London and stored at London City Bond.
- each producer will have their own sub section on the Mind Map Wine Company website.
- all wines will be priced higher than any trade or agreed retail prices.
- they will each pay a 3% charge for administration costs to cover one member of staff based in the UK to help manage the day to day logistics and marketing.
Ross Sleet says the collaboration can work because it has been designed to be as lean and as flexible as possible where it can move quickly and adapt to what the consumer might be looking for.
(Click here for Ross Sleet on why DTC makes sense)
As well as his range of Bruce Jack Wines, Jack will also be looking to sell his premium wines from The Drift Estate in South Africa, his joint cider brand with Paul Cluver, and the collaborations he has in Spain – La Bascula. Other producers set to join include one from the south of France, the McLaren Vale in Australia and Marlborough in New Zealand.
The reason the three have chosen to work together is they all naturally sing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to making and marketing wine, says Jack. It is that meeting of minds which is key to how successful this project can be.
Jack, in particular, is a great admirer of what he sees as Sleet’s “marketing genius” particularly with his new Rascallion wine brand, based on blends. “His wines are fantastic as well.”
The feeling is very mutual, and Sleet says he was also attracted to the project for its “openness” and the fact it allows him to get wines that are not currently available into the UK into the market in a creative and cost effective way.
Sleet says he has known Jack for over 30 years and they have always been close without ever working together before. He is particularly excited about the opportunity to collaborate with like minded people in a new and open way.
(Click here for why Bruce Jack and Ross Sleet are working together)
Ross was keen to stress that going DTC should not be seen as an “either or” for brand owners in terms of cutting out their traditional retailer and on-trade routes to market. This way of doing DTC is completely complementary to that business.
Inspiration for others
Jack says he hopes what they are doing will act as a catalyst and inspiration for other wine producers and brand owners to follow. The technology is now there, he says, for businesses like theirs to make the most of it to connect and engage directly with their consumers. It’s time for more producers to “box clever” and look at more creative solutions – particularly from South Africa where the currency is so weak.
(Click here for Bruce Jack on why he hopes this can be the catalyst for other producers and brands to go DTC)
A “no brainer” at a time when they can’t travel in person to promote their wines. If you are a producer situated so far away from your biggest markets, like South Africa is to the UK, then it makes sense to use the technology that is there to help you, he explains.
He was also keen to stress that this move is in any way meant to undermine its UK partners such as Alliance Wine “who do a brilliant job for us”. This is a way to hopefully make that relationship stronger by becoming “another retail customer of theirs”.
The UK is the obvious launch market for the Mind Map Wine Company, he adds, followed by the US and Germany. Covid-19 is forcing “radical change” to the framework of the infamous US three tier system and there are now more ways for overseas producers – thanks to technology – to use online to reach consumers in different states, he says. It will work with the SevenFifty platform that has found a way to navigate sales across the three tiers.
Germany is particularly appealing, he adds, thanks to the “world class logistics” it has in working with DTC platforms.
(Click here for Ross Sleet on why brand owners should go DTC)
Promoting the site
As with any online platform you are only as good as your ability to use SEO and digital marketing to attract consumers to your site. Jack admits that is a “weakness in the plan” at the moment in that it is database driven and it still needs fine tuning. But equally it will learn which approach works best once it is live and trading. Its initial success will lie in getting third party endorsements and working their own customer databases and networks.
He says they are “under no illusion of the difficulty of what we are trying to do, but I don’t think we are left with a choice because of what Covid has done and because of the opportunity that technology offers us, it just seems crazy not to take advantage and to tell your story directly”.
But there is no rush here, he stresses. It is more important to get the model right first and then use it to “grow organically” and is confident that they will get support from their retail partners to help promote it. “It will allow their customers to talk directly to us…this is about making the experience of the consumer better”.
It’s why it’s initially launching the site with a straightforward payment system and will then bolt on more sticky content and engagement tools as it builds up its traffic. But the intention is for it to act very much as an interactive site where consumers can chat and read content direct from the producers and their teams.
(Click here for Bruce Jack & Ross Sleet on doing business in the right way)
Both agreed this platform had the potential to help producers and their customer trade in a different way that is good for the industry as a whole.
They share the same philosophy that running a business should be to “add to the world” not taking away. “You have got to work harder, you’ve got to be brighter, and you’ve got to be more creative and it’s all about adding to the pie,” says Jack.
Sleet says it also about trying to make a break from how things have always been done and look at more creative, and mutually beneficial ways of working together that stick to the core “values” of how you want to do business. This is what, at heart, this new collaborative way of working is all about using technology to achieve it. “Let’s be smart about this and go after the market in an intelligent way and not at the expense of other people.”
- If you would like to know more about Mind Map Wine Company then go it its website here. You can contact Bruce Jack at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ross Sleet at email@example.com.