With so much competition amongst the wine importers that already exist, it’s quite a big step to launch a new business into such a crowded market place. But since Alex Green and Matthew Johnson started up Beyond Wines in the middle of Covid-19 they have not looked back with a business model that operates as a smaller, arguably more flexible alternative to the UK’s biggest distributors. It’s all based on striking strategic partnerships with key producers around the world. Here Alex Green explains how it is working with Overhex to source great value wines – and potentially breakthrough brands – from South Africa.
“We have found a way to succeed in what has probably been the toughest trading conditions we have had as an industry,” says Beyond Wines’ co-founder, Alex Green. Here’s why having the right supplier partnership is key to that success.
Alex Green and Matthew Johnson have been around the wine industry long enough to know what it is that can make you fail in this sector, just as much as it takes to succeed.
Both are graduates of the talent pool recruited by Robin Copestick that helped make Copestick Murray one of the most innovative and disruptive wine importers and brand businesses in the UK.
Now they are, by their own admission, looking to do something similar. But on their own. In fact they are have recently recruited Stuart Bond, also ex Copestick Murray, and more recently part of the Freixenet Copestick business it evolved into, to help take Beyond Wines to another level.
To do that means finding the right wine partners to work with in key wine exporting countries around the world, says Green. Producers and wine brand companies with the scale, clout and ambitions to help them bring in a constant line up of great quality, value wines at all the major commercial price points. Be they private label, exclusive lines or standalone brands with their own image and personality.
“Strategic partnership is one of the things that UK agents often do badly when they look to take on too many producers and end up working with too many suppliers around the world,” says Green. “We think we can do a better job for our producers, and our customers, if we can have five to seven key strategic partners to work with. That is what we are doing now. Looking for producers who we can be with for the long term, helping to build wine brands together,” he explains.
Ideally it would like to have an “answer” in every major wine producing country, be it “tactical or strategic”. “We want to have a sourcing answer in every country we need to be in.”
Beyond Wines got off to a great start by working with Cramele Recas, Romania’s number one export wine producer, that is one of the few international producers with the scale and diverse product range that allows them to work with virtually every major retailer and operator in the country.
A producer like no other when it comes to keeping ahead of the market with quality, value added wines in all major international wine styles and packaging formats.
The South Africa opportunity
Now Beyond Wines has turned its attention to South Africa and linked up with the influential Overhex Wines, a former supplier of Copestick Murray and Freixenet Copestick, to be its UK partner with access to its wide range of bulk, bottle and branded wines.
The deal was struck and finalised at Cape Wine in South Africa in October and Beyond Wines has been importing its wines since the last quarter of 2022.
Having worked with Overhex during his Copestick Murray days, Green knows what huge potential and opportunities it offers.
“Overhex is a top five exporter of wine from South Africa, so it has the size and scale. But it also has the flexibility and ability to do smaller projects too. It sells bulk, but also has a really good marketing team and are a brand making machine.”
Which is exactly why he believes “Overhex is a great fit for us in the way it approaches brands”.
Beyond Wines is strong at sourcing wines at between £7 and £12 on a supermarket shelf, in the mid to premium category. “To do that you need to have good brands,” he says.
Which, he believes, Overhex does – when you look at the impact and scale The Balance brand (the one with the elephant on the label) has had.
“This is also a chance for them to build their own brands in the UK and we are very proud to be working with them. We also think that between myself, Matt and Stuart, we have good history of building brands with our customers and a good track record of being able to sell and develop brands in good volume.”
One of Overhex’s latest launches is its Get Lost brand, at around £8-£10, that was launched at Cape Wine and very much sits in the disruptor category if there is one.
“Get Lost by its very name is all about discovery and exploration and trying something new. Its blends are combinations that have not been tried before. Or wines you know, but with a twist.”
Like its sparkling orange wine, which claims to be the first of its kind in the world. “We have had a very strong response to it so far,” says Green, with a first listing in Good Pair Days through wine buyer, Harry Crowther.
It has also put its own neck on the line by creating a joint venture with Overhex called ‘The Mooring’ which evokes stories of all the ships that ran ashore and never made it around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of South Africa.
“This is the kind of wine we believe South Africa does really well. It also has Chenin Blanc and Pinotage that no-one else can do.’
The big issue for South Africa in the mass wine market, claims Green, is that it is too often “pigeon holed as the cheapest on display” and although there are wines to be had in the mid to premium £7 to £15 prime price slots, very few are making it up from South Africa compared to what you can get from Chile, Argentina, Spain and Australia at those key price points.
“You can get Malbec from Argentina at £7, Tempranillo from Spain, or wines from Chile and Australia. South Africa has got great wine in that area too, but it has fallen by the wayside. We want to reinvent that area for the market and think Overhex does wines better than anyone else at that price point.”
That’s why he is particularly confident about The Mooring’s wines – a Sauvignon Blanc and a Syrah Grenache blend – that are sourced from South Africa’s coastal region vineyards close to where ships are often lost.
“It is a brand that consumers can relate to. Everyone knows about the Cape of Good Hope and the famous storms and big seas. It’s how we can make history relatable and interesting,” he says.
That story really comes out in the strong label designs. “The challenge is to get that story across quickly and visually and The Mooring does that in an effective way.”
The wines, which retail around £10 RRP, have so far been taken on by Adnams and some other regional wholesalers
“We have the opportunity to add more wines to the range as we scale and we are looking at some reserve options as well.”
Green believes the interest in South African wines at a more mass market level is only now beginning to kick into life. “It’s at an early stage but we are pitching to the trade that South Africa is ripe for reigniting and retelling its story from a different angle and showing customers more brands.
The Survivor range from Overhex has been in the UK for some time, and has proved its place in the £15 to £20 price bracket and Green is looking to bring in its more premium, up to £30 reserve and cellar master wines too.
“We are also able to work tactically with Overhex as well and we were over at the World Bulk Wine Exhibition in Amsterdam recently talking to customers about the fact we can do with their own label and brands too.”
With Romania and South Africa under its belt, Beyond Wines is now looking to strike deals with partners in others areas and is close to announcing a producer who can help with its exclusive supply of Prosecco. It has also signed up a Champagne house but isn’t yet able to disclose.
“We have also got discussions going on in South America and Australia,” says Green.
But he also knows it is about being able to prove your worth through sales and is pleased to say the Beyond Wines’ “snowball is starting to run down the hill as we are getting success with different customers who have taken us on”.
Particularly for its Cramele Recas wine and its brands like Zana, that sits across both the on and off-trades, with listings in Ocado and Wetherspoons, with a supermarket also launching the Pinot Noir in the first quarter of 2023. “It proves it can be done.”
Green says he and the rest of the Beyond Wines team are very much enjoying working for themselves having been part of the corporate world for so long.
“There is never an average day when you are working for yourself,” he says. “One minute you feel you have smashed it out of the park and you’re going to be a millionaire, the next you are worried you are going to be able to feed the family in a week’s time.”
But so far the ups are far outweighing the downs. “We have found a way to succeed in what has probably been the most tough trading conditions we have had as an industry and it is not getting any easier. Being flexible and able to react quickly is really important at the moment and that is what we can do. We don’t have any distractions that go up the corporate chain. We can deal with any problem in two minutes and that really is a big advantage,” explains Green.
- You can find out more about Beyond Wines at its website here, or get in touch with the directors: