The Covid-19 crisis has seen a number of major grocery and FMCG brands launch their own direct to consumer websites in a bid to stay close to their usual customer base who were stuck at home, not willing to venture out, who had switched in their millions to buying their favourite products online. Truth be told most had been planning and proposing setting up their DTC sites for some time. Like Treasury Wine Estates, which next week pulls back the curtain on its own first venture into DTC in the UK, aimed at promoting its premium and luxury wine brands. Richard Siddle talks to Ben Blake, Treasury’s European head of marketing, about why now and how it is going to work.
Treasury Wine Estates’ new UK DTC site – The Winery Collection – hopes to engage with consumers and tell them stories about its wines and premium brands like never before.
With the dust slowing starting to settle on the Covid-19 lockdown some of the biggest trends that resulted from the entire UK population being shut in their homes for over two months are beginning to emerge.
Arguably one of the biggest has been how fast the nation as a whole, across all its age groups, switched to buying what they needed online. Yes, we could venture out to the shops at limited times, but for the first time a huge swathe of consumers discovered what it was like to become an online shopper. In the main, they liked it, and have gone back time and to buy more.
Kantar, the retail analysts, claims there was “more progress” in e-commerce in the first five weeks of lockdown than had been achieved in the previous five years. The fact 85% of the companies it works have increased their investment in online during Covid-19 suggests this trend, and switch to digital, is here to stay.
It could be argued that many of the major household brands – from Heinz to Pepsico – that quickly launched their own DTC sites during lockdown, were acting under the cover of Covid to put in place plans they had wanted to do for some, but had shied away from in in fear of upsetting their traditional retail customers.
“It’s the best opportunity to ever try,” was how Jean Philippe Nier, head of e-commerce at Kraft Heinz, described to The Grocer its decision to set up its own DTC site – Heinz to Home. “If you wait two or three months your opportunity has gone.”
But whilst the majority of these new grocery DTC sites have been for mainstream, everyday items like Heinz Baked Beans and Tomato Ketchup, Treasury Wine Estates is coming at DTC in a very different way, claims European marketing manager, Ben Blake.
Premium DTC opportunity
It is looking to use its new ‘The Winery Collection’ DTC platform to help promote and give its consumers the chance to really get under the skin of a carefully selection range of its premium and luxury wine brand portfolio.
So as well as giving wine lovers the chance to buy its premium wines direct for the first time, it will also enable them to enjoy a range of new experiences and opportunities not possible through its traditional routes to market.
More details will follow, but Blake says the site has been set up to allow it to offer unique access to its winemakers, and offer the chance to take part in exclusive tastings, dinners and events in the coming months. That’s where a DTC site can really offer an invaluable value added, point of difference to a brand owner’s relationship with its end consumer, says Blake.
“It’s a chance to get to a new consumer base,” he says and be more relevant to them, be it for buying wine for more buying occasions, but also on a personal and emotional level too. “We will be able to give them access to unique experiences and a chance to connect with our winemakers,” he explains.
Which is why the timing of the launch next week on August 4 is more of a coincide, stresses Blake, than coming on the back of Covid-19 and the national lockdown.
“This has been in the planning for over a year. The timing is perfect with the acceleration we have seen in e-commerce over the last few months, which has been an acceleration of existing trends.”
That step by step process will continue even when the site goes live as Treasury will take its time over the next six months to slowly introduce it to its consumer base to make sure it can handle the volume of traffic and orders that might come through, says Blake.
Initial support will come through digital advertising, search implementation and then with a targeted social media campaign, assessing what is the most effective as it goes.
Complementary not competing
Initially the site will act as platform to help promote and talk about a selection of its premium and luxury range including: Penfolds; Wynns; Beringer; Maison de Grand Esprit; Cavaliere d’Oro; and Beaulieu Vineyard.
Blake is clear that Treasury in no way sees this as a direct competitor to its traditional routes to market. The majority of the brands are currently represented to some degree in the on-trade, with a few exceptions (Penfolds Max’s and Konunga Hill) that are sold through major multiples. It has been designed, he stresses, to be “wholly complementary” to all the channels it works in.
“It’s also a platform for us to promote our luxury brands and drive more consumers to them,” which, in turn, he says can only help their profile and sales for its retail and on-trade customers.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” explains Blake. “This is pat of our wider strategy to unlock further growth in our luxury brands.”
The majority of wines are currently available in the UK in one channel or another, but this will be an opportunity to bring them together under one roof. Price points will be carefully managed to ensure they are not competing with their other suppliers.
“We want to be able to make the full ranges of these wines available to people.”
Interestingly this is not the first DTC move by Treasury Wine Estates as it has other sites around the world in Australia, Asia and the US. But it is the first for the UK, and also marks arguably the biggest statement of intent of any of the major international brand owners operating in this key, influential market.
Time is right
Blake believes now the opportunity has come for brands to develop deeper relationships through DTC then it is potentially good news for the wine sector as a whole as it looks to “connect to a wider group of consumers” and address the fact that wine is losing sales to other drinks categories.
“Our challenge is to try and democratise wine more and give our consumers better access to the brands they like. Particularly at the luxury end of the market.
Treasury is particularly well placed as it has such a wide range of premium and luxury brands in its portfolio. “We are very proud of them,” he adds.
More of its premium brands will be added to the site as it evolves and grows. “We want to keep it fresh for our consumers,” says Blake.
It means they will be able to access highly sought after past vintages and Bins of Penfolds right up to its celebrated Grange wines.
“It will give consumers the chance to learn so much more about the Pendfolds brand and its history and winemaking style. There will be full information on each of the wines and the thoughts of chief winemaker Peter Gago,” explains Blake. “It’s a terrific opportunity to showcase the wines and also educate people about the range.”
That said this is very much focused on the premium end of the spectrum and Blake insists it has no current plans to go DTC for its big mass volume supermarket brands.
The look and feel of the Winery Collection site will also be in keeping with the high net worth consumer it hopes to attract. As with any site it will also be judged on just how well it delivers in terms of ease of use, the customer journey through to payment and delivery. Which is why the site will have an initial soft launch to ensure it is working effectively.
It will also look to include a membership service with extra benefits for those customers that sign up, says Blake. Further details of what that might include will be released shortly. “We hope to build that over time,” he says.
Need to think and act differently
But he concedes the last few months have raised the stakes even more for brand owners and “forced us to innovate” and “communicate” even more.
It has also meant a rethink in terms of how it traditionally has communicated and marketed its brands. We can expect, he says, a realignment with more money being spent on digital, social media and more targeted activity. It simply has no choice but to move more of its spend away from sampling at events and be more tactical and creative.
During lockdown, for example, it was able to team up with the on demand takeaway service, Deliveroo, to run a major sampling camping for Wolf Blass. It was able to give customers the choice, on checkout, of whether they wanted to receive a 187ml sampling bottle of Wolf Blass to enjoy with their meal in in parts of London and Manchester. Over 20,000 samples were sent out.
It ran a separate digital campaign to help support its Blossom Hill brand by teaming up with a florist business, whereby customers could volunteer a friend or family member to receive a bouquet of flowers and bottle of Blossom Hill Gin Fizz – with around 100 nominations and deliveries a week. A nice way for a major brand to connect with its consumer base and help them bring some lockdown relief to friends or family at the same time, says Blake.
“We have had to move our marketing activity to reflect the virtual lives that our consumers are living in. Some of those steps will live with us long term and become part of mainstream marketing,” he adds. “The key is to invest in ways that reflect our consumers’ lifestyles.”
Blake won’t be drawn on specific goals for its new ‘Winery Collection’ site, but it has been set its own profit targets and there are clearly big ambitions for how the site can grow – in time.
He also says there are no plans for it to extend its DTC activities to its mainstream, high volume big supermarket brands. But it is interesting to see that both Wolf Blass and Blossom Hill have got consumer websites with similar background and information to each of the wines, providing shoppers with more details about their favourite brands. But with no e-commerce element.
Strip back all the hype around DTC sites, and as well as the sales they bring, it is the targeted, personalised data they provide about every consumer and their shopping behaviour, that the big brands are really after. Treasury is no exception.
“It will also give us an opportunity to learn so much more about our consumer,” admits Blake. “About what they want, what they think of our brands, and what influences them to buy. Putting the consumer at the heart of everything we do is going to be even more crucial,” he says.
It’s why Treasury is supporting the site with a “cross functional team” – including those with direct DTC experience – capable of taking the learnings and understanding them. The end-to-end delivery aspect will also be key to how successful it is. It is also noticeable that it has a hefty minimum £15 delivery charge, with free delivery only kicking when you spend £500, which reflects the quality and prestige of the wines being sold. If you are in certain more remote postcodes of the UK, like the Scottish islands, then you will have to be paying £3,000 to get free delivery or be faced with a £195 delivery charge.
The key for Treasury is to get it up and running and then it can watch how consumers respond. As Blake explains: “The feedback we get from consumers will be the most fascinating and useful aspects of launching this site. It’s an opportunity for us to do things differently. We wanted to build something that is unique and reflects the excellence of our brands.”
- You can check out the new DTC Winery Collection website for yourself by clicking here.