Keen prices, easily remembered names, informative labelling, glitzy advertising campaigns and not forgetting a decent taste - these are the reasons why branded wines are doing so well in the UK. However, to stay in favour they've got to keep themselves in tip-top condition, which is why branded wines are getting a makeover and whichever way you turn labels are being redesigned to give a fresh new look for this summer season.
The UK's number one branded wine, Blossom Hill, has had a packaging revamp as part of its campaign to push the single varietal range and acquire market share from rival wine brands. The new look is designed to reinforce Blossom Hill's "relaxed, easy-drinking persona while creating a more premium feel". And in a bid to attract new consumers to the wine category, the established blends will display simple labels while the varietals will emphasise their quality with more descriptive tasting notes.
In addition, there is a new bottle neck - the California-style lip is replaced by a more classic, streamlined format. This has been done because consumer research found this type of neck is more widely associated with premium quality wines.
Blossom Hill senior brand manager Helen Wright comments: "We want consumers to feel at ease when choosing a bottle of wine and the new packaging will ensure just that. Supporting advertising will reaffirm Blossom Hill with current consumers and attract new recruits. Our key aim is to consolidate our position as the UK's leading wine brand and continue our current rate of growth." To be precise, up 22% in value and 24% in volume year-on-year, according to AC Nielsen MAT GB off sales, Feb 2006.
Meanwhile, E&J Gallo Winery has rebranded its core wine range under the Gallo Family Vineyards umbrella. Apparently, the new name and logo will provide consumers with an instantly recognisable brand from entry level Sierra Valley to premium Sonoma wines. The rebranding will be supported by an extensive communications campaign to ensure the changes are understood.
The move follows an excellent year for E&J Gallo. In 2005 its branded wines recorded 31% growth, with Sierra Valley posting 24.7% growth to make it the second largest wine brand in the UK after Blossom Hill.
But the makeovers don't stop with the two biggest brands. Ehrmanns has unveiled a new look for BlueRidge wine. The brand will retain its cutaway Bordeaux bottle but the labelling has been changed to project stronger wine values. At the same time, the brand has been made available to the cash and carry sector for the first time.
Special full-colour outer cases featuring the cutaway bottle have been designed to make it easier for independent retailers to find the brand in depots.
Owning up
The big brands don't have it all their own way, as Bestway, Landmark and Spar have all invested heavily in their wines to ensure their quality stands up to any of the major players.
Bestway launched Cellar Estates onto the market in March. The cash and carry group's wine advisor Andrea Hargrave explains: "It was designed to sit alongside the leading brands from the New World, as a high quality yet competitive alternative, exclusively available to the independent retailer.
"Additionally, Cellar Estates has been positioned to lead categories such as Spain and Italy where big brand presence is lacking. The extent of the portfolio means that if the retailer stocks the leading brands and the Cellar Estates range, his customers' requirements should be well covered.''
Hargrave says the success seen from the launch has been very encouraging. Single varietals from the New World - California, Australia, Chile and South Africa -were recently added to the range
but the latest launch is from Valencia, with German, Italian, French regional and Portuguese wines soon to follow.
From Landmark Wholesale there's the Vintners Collection of 44 wines from seven countries. The company's trading controller, Steve Mayes, says sales of wine generally are great at the moment, but sales of Vintners Collection are particularly good. He puts the success down to its quality: "We have stringent controls, we don't compromise on quality - if anything we over-deliver on quality. The wines are all bench- tested against the multiples and the major brands and they always come off fantastically well. At the International Wine Challenge we received a lot of accolades."
Prices range from £2.99 for a table wine to £8.99 for a chablis and promotions always go well, especially things like 'three for £10'. Labelling includes the origin and style plus food matches but not stuffy ones, says Mayes. "Ours are a bit more quirky and say things like 'goes well with a mushroom omelette' or 'good with cauliflower cheese and chips'."
He says Landmark holds a lot of training sessions for staff and customers and makes sure these are interesting and light-hearted affairs. "Wine tasting can be a little crusty and there's a certain amount of 'vinophobia' as some people are worried about appearing daft, but we take a no-nonsense approach and de-mystify the process. It's good to give retailers the confidence to talk about wine to their customers - it's something that gives them an edge over the multiples."
Finally, the Spar branded wine range was relaunched last Christmas, and wines and spirits trading manager Gyles Walker is looking at the analysis now to see how it's gone. "It's been very well received because its quality is so good and we had several seals of approval at the International Wine Challenge. The Spanish Valencia is going great guns with sales up 34% year on year. Also doing well is the Discovery brand."
There's no doubt that brands give consumers confidence and the wine companies are confident that brands give retailers increased sales.

Rosé outlook

If this summer is anything like last year, it'll be a good one for rosé sales. According to AC Nielsen, during the 18-week summer sales period from May to August 2005, rosé's share of the still light wine market almost doubled to account for nearly 10% of sales in the take-home sector. Apparently, this was driven by activity in the multiple specialist off licence sector but there's no reason why c-stores shouldn't get in on the action this year. Peter Reynolds, senior client manager at
AC Nielsen, says rosé's growth was fuelled by the US and driven by E&J Gallo's Sierra Valley and Blossom Hill. However, he adds that the combined Mateus rosé original and the new tempranillo brand grew by 40% and added an incremental £1.5m in value to maintain its number three position.
For summer 2006, Mateus is investing heavily in TV advertising, which starts this month. Paul Evans, Mateus brand manager at First Drinks Brands, explains: "Following a successful 2005 with growth of 22%, Mateus rosé will again be investing in advertising to highlight the natural appeal of both Mateus rosé original and Mateus rosé tempranillo, launched last year.
"Rosé wine is perfectly suited to barbecue and summer drinking occasions and the category has been growing strongly within the wine market with a 6% share now achieved."
There are believed to be nearly five million rosé drinkers in the UK. More than half of them are in the 20-35 age group and 70% are women.

Short slurps

? Hardys has launched a food and wine text recommendation service to help consumers choose wine to go with their meal. Consumers text their food choice and their year of birth (to comply with the Portman Group's responsible drinking code of practice) to a special number and receive a text back recommending a specific grape variety and the Hardys wine that would go best with their meal. The recommendations have been developed by a team of food and wine experts.
? The Devil's Rock Private Collection is a new riesling brand that will initially comprise three wines from both the Old and New World: Clare Valley, Australia; Marlborough, New Zealand; and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany. The collection will expand to include rieslings from other regions such as the United States.
? South African wine producer DGB has opened a UK office to offer more support to independent retailers. The company is also investing in a marketing campaign to drive consumer purchase in the independent trade. DGB's two leading brands are Douglas Green, which offers entry point wines, and the Bellingham Our Founder's range of special occasion wines.
? Sales of Fairtrade wines are really beginning to take off. According to AC Nielsen, sales reached £7m for the 52 weeks to May 2006. Three Thandi wines from South Africa were the first to carry the Fairtrade mark, back in 2004.
? Nearly half of UK wine drinkers make their choice of purchase on what the label looks like, according to research from the Yali Chilean wine brand. And apparently Chilean wine benefits from the clear labelling that is an intrinsic part of New World Wines.
? Jacob's Creek is the number one sparkling wine brand in the UK, AC Nielsen figures point out. The research company reports that Jacob's Creek sparkling chardonnay pinot noir and sparkling rosé have recorded a 42% sales growth (MAT March 25, 2006).

American duo

PLB's wholesale/on-trade sales manager Julian Drake reckons Chilano and Sutter Home are must-stock brands for c-stores. "Chilano is selling very well in the grocery multiples. And it's recently been on promotion in Martin McColls at £3.99, instead of the usual £4.49. It's the first time the company has stocked it and early indications are that the promotion worked well so we hope they will take it on as a long-term listing.
"As for Sutter Home, it's a huge brand in the US but it's no longer available here through the multiples so gives independent retailers something different to offer their customers. Plus there's the fact that it's doing well in the on-trade, particularly through some of the managed chains."