When Beyond Wines launched last summer they did so with the promise that they would break the mould of a typical wine supplier. A few months on and Alex Green and Matthew Johnson are living up to that pledge. They have hired a new brand manager from the fashion industry and have developed, from scratch, and launched a new wine brand, Liquid Diamond, that has been designed specifically to appeal to the Instagram generation of wine drinkers, and uses emojis as taste descriptors on the label. Richard Siddle catches up with their story.
Liquid Diamond is the first pillar brand from Beyond Wines, and typifies the company’s breakthrough consumer first approach to wine sourcing, distribution, sales and marketing.
“A lot has happened since last October,” is how Alex Green, co-founder of Beyond Wines, starts our conversation nearly six months on from when The Buyer did its initial analysis of a business that made the brave claim it was out to re-write the rules of what a wine supplier should be about.
Both Green and his business partner, Matthew Johnson, cut their teeth in the industry working for Copestick Murray, which at the time became a master of – excuse the football language – of working between the lines and finding an edge between producers and mostly supermarkets that others could not find. It helped, for example, develop exclusive and tertiary supermarket brands before there was even a name for them. They worked the angles to find new ways of doing business that kept them one step ahead of the traditional competition.
That’s where Beyond Wines wants to fit in with what Green and Johnson believe is a revamped suppliers’ model that comes to buyers with wines and new brands they already know are going to work with a customer’s target consumer.
It is that consumer first approach that might not sound radical, but Green assures is, when it comes to the usual “this is the wine we can make from our property, do you want to buy it” approach that too many producers and their distributors and importers fall back on.
Need to innovate
Green and Johnson also know through their previous careers that “to get air time with buyers” any new supplier has to come to them with genuinely new ideas. “Something that buyers can’t currently get from all the other suppliers out there,” says Green.
There is, Johnson adds, far too much of what he calls “trade-led” innovation rather than “consumer driven” brands being offered to major chains.
Which is where their new brand, Liquid Diamond, comes in. A brand they have developed which they believe gets to the heart of what young drinkers – 18-35 year olds in particular – are looking for. A brand they can immediately personally connect with, in much the same way they would when seeing something they like and are attracted to on Instagram or TikTok.
“We know most shoppers buy first with their eyes, and that they openly don’t know – and don’t want to know – much about wine,” says Green. “Yes, they expect it to taste great, that’s a given. But it is also the image it has, how it appeals to them and stand out to others that is also vitally important. They want it to look stunning too.”
Johnson says its consumer research revealed two key factors when it comes to buying a new brand. Even during and coming out of lockdown consumers are looking to treat themselves on premium products like never before, but they also want to be ‘wowed’ by a product. By its look, feel, image and packaging.
Realising its target market gets the majority of its news, information and advertising on social media, and Instagram and Tik Tok in particular, Green and Johnson said there was no point in trying to communicate with them in a wine language they don’t relate to or understand, but through the language of social media. It’s why, with Liquid Diamond, they have done away with traditional back labels and instead are using emojis rather than the usual tasting descriptors to quickly and visually describe what’s in the bottle.
Green explains: “This is not about dumbing down, but understanding what is important to our consumer. Using our own emoji language gives the reader the instant recognition of what the wine tastes and feels like, so that they can feel confident in their purchase decision and even impart that knowledge to their friends and family.”
So by simply having emojis of say a cherry, raspberry, or a lemon, it immediately helps consumers know what they are about to taste. “It is using a language that gives them instant recognition of what you are trying to say,” adds Green. “The emoji is the language of the 21st century, and we all use it everyday.”
Johnson says it also speaks directly to the majority of consumers buying wine in a supermarket or pub who do not have any wine knowledge and are usually put off by complex wine tasting notes. Emojis talk to them in a visual language they understand and use themselves.
They have checked with the Portman Group to make sure it is comfortable with the emoji approach. They have even had to create their own emojis and not use the official ones as they would be in breach of copyright.
Using emojis also makes so much sense for when selling the brand internationally, adds Green. “It means we won’t have to re-write parts of the back label for each market. We have already had interest from several key markets.”
To help market and push Liquid Diamond to its target audience Green and Johnson have brought in Sarah Turner as brand manager, who was previously working in the fashion industry as part of the buying team at fashion retail brand, Missguided.
Good for you…
Liquid Diamond has also been positioned, says Turner, to tap into our understandable collective interest, that has come out of the pandemic, to buy into brands that have our health, wellness and self-care in mind. A wellness market she says is worth close to £500 per head in the UK. Hence the ‘Diamond’ aspect of the brand which encapsulates the positive energy that comes from diamonds and crystals, she adds.
“Wellness,” she adds, “is literally about what makes you feel good personally. It could be a spa break, lying in the bath with some candles, or buying a bottle of wine. Everyone, even more so now, wants to have their everyday treat that can help them feel better.”
“If you look at what our target audience is engaged with on social media it is all about mental health, wellbeing and self empowerment. We want to tap into that with Liquid Diamond” says Green. “We have created a brand that is hugely Instagrammable. It looks beautiful and we want consumers picking it up.”
It’s why they have spent so much time trying to get the bottle and packaging right, investing in premium features all over the bottle. It has worked with its partners to create a bottle with a raised diamond shape on it, and “taken months,” says Johnson, to get the screw cap right. The bottle is side embossed with a diamond ridge, so that it feels like quality when you pick it up, he adds. “It is easy to make something beautiful on a picture on a screen, but we have taken that beautiful image and painstakingly brought it to life, and we are delighted with the results of a lot of people’s hard work. It’s all about ‘wow-ing’ the consumer”.
The brand’s hashtags and social media addresses have also been printed into the labels and on the foils of the Prosecco so their customers can become brand advocates and share their own stories.
The brand has worked very closely with design agency, Barlow & Co, on the marketing, branding and packaging. “It’s a partnership” says Green. “They have been brilliant and totally on board with what we are trying to achieve. Their team have brought the brand to life through innovative design and technically groundbreaking packaging. It’s been great to have them work alongside us on our journey.”
To help push Liquid Diamond out to the right audience, Beyond Wines will be looking to collaborate with like-minded third party brands in other categories, particularly health and beauty, where together they can offer a strong message to their combined target audiences.
Johnson says: “That is why we have brought in Sarah. She is absolutely the right person to lead our marketing with her links to fashion and lifestyle.”
The brand will eventually become a six-strong range, but is first being introduced this month with a Prosecco DOC and Prosecco Rosé (RRP of £12), followed by a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pale Rosé coming later this year. They will be available in 75cl (£10 RRP) and 187ml (£3 RRP).
It is initially being introduced to the convenience sector, through McColls, and is on Amazon with further rollouts from there.
The fact Green and Johnson have turned to Turner as their first hire is also reflective of how Beyond Wines wants to act and think differently, says Green. They see her having no experience of working in the wine industry as a benefit, he adds. Her fresh thinking and approach is exactly what they are looking for.
Turner has actually been attracted to the wine industry for some time, but been frustrated by a couple of job interviews which had fallen through due to her lack of formal wine knowledge.
“It’s just a perfect here with Alex, Matthew and Liquid Diamond,” she says. “I am really looking forward to taking the brand on to the next stage with social media, our website and third-party collaborations and influencer marketing. Hopefully I can also bring in new ideas from the fashion sector as well.”
She also says she has been fascinated by wine since growing up and watching her dad, who used to make wine at home. “When I moved to Manchester my flat mate worked at Majestic and we would go to wine tasting together and I found I absolutely loved it.”
During lockdown she has enjoyed taking part in a few online wine tastings and is now excited to take what was becoming a “bit of a hobby” into her working life too.
Spotting trends and acting on them is what life in the fashion industry is all about, says Turner. She hopes to be able to bring some of those instincts and speed of thought to her new wine role.
Life at Missguided, for example, was hectic and the pressure was always on to develop new lines and bring them to market. But it was also, she says, an amazing experience and training ground, particularly in a sector that is big on empowerment and female empowerment in particular, she says.
“Working in fashion you are constantly looking to spot the latest trend. Be it on Tik Tok or wherever. Part of the challenge here now is to look at other sectors and then relate what is happening there to wine.”
Which brings us back to the ethos of Liquid Diamond, says Green. “We want to empower the consumer to feel confident about what they are buying. To make it fun, and break down any barriers.”
The Cramele Recas factor
Johnson says there has also been a lot going on behind the scenes just getting the “nuts and bolts” of the business right as well. Helped enormously by having Cramele Recas, Romania’s biggest wine exporting producer on-board.
Having a partner of that scale and influence has helped both in giving the business the initial security and cash flow, but also in terms of the relationships and conversations it opens with major multiple and accounts to explore new ideas.
Cramele Recas, for example, in recent months has opened up new listings with Aldi, and introduced a raft of new wines, including a premium rosé and a single variety Feteasca Regala. It has also enjoyed good success in Majestic with the exclusive Solomonar brand, again using a blend of indigenous Romanian and classic International varieties.
Cramele Recas is now well placed to build on its already impressive list of clients in the UK, that stretches across all channels. Green says Romania is particularly on the radar of major retail buyers at the moment and been identified by Sainsbury’s as an area of key strategic growth in 2021 and 2022.
“We would not have been able to develop the other side of the business as much as we have without the support of Cramele Recas,” says Johnson.
“It has given us the financial ability to go and develop our own brand. Cramele Recas also gives us credibility with other producers around the world to work with,” adds Green.
Beyond Wines hopes, in time, to add another five or six other strategic producer partners around the world with whom it can work to develop bespoke brands and ideas for potential customers. The company is already talking with Domaine Gayda, for example, the innovative Languedoc producer, as well as holding talks with several other players around the world.
New ways of working
Starting a business in the middle of a pandemic was not in everyone’s ideal business plan, but it has also brought its advantages, says Green. For a start they have not had to think about spending money on an office. They have already shown to themselves that they can run a business from different parts of the country. With Green in Kent, Johnson in Bedfordshire, Turner in Manchester and their supply chain manager Nick in Glasgow.
“The pandemic has shown we can work like this and we are not restricted by who is willing or not to do an hour to two’s commute to work. We are able to go out and hire the best possible candidates that we can find,” says Green. “We are uniquely not restricted by geography.”
The next steps for the business involve widening its distribution, particularly in the mainstream on-trade, and introducing new countries of origin to its range. Beyond Wines sees no reason why brands being sold in the off-trade can’t work equally well in large parts of the on-trade. In fact in the coming months and years they seee the ranges of wines in the multiple on and off-trades blurring even more.
“After all it is the same customer that goes into a Greene King on a Friday night who is going to Sainsbury’s the next day,” Green suggests.
“We will see over the next couple of years consumers starting to vote with their feet. They will turn to consumer-led innovation and the retailers and operators that can offer it.”