How to Launch an International Wine in the U.S.

[Editor’s Note: During a fall 2018 seminar in Bordeaux, we tried to answer a difficult but frequently asked question:  how does an international winery successfully launch a new wine brand into the competitive U.S. market?  The seminar led to a blog post on our French site, here, but we thought others might want to read the English language version, below.]

 

Are there common characteristics of successful new brand launches in the US?

Based on our own experience, as well as some research, we came up with five traits that appear to influence success. While there is no single feature or strategy, a combination of several guidelines should help set yourself up for success. And that’s the key: planning. Wine does not sell itself.

First, a caveat: as a marketing agency we take a marketer’s perspective. Second we are assuming a path-to-market through the traditional three-tier system as opposed to direct import, DTC sales through an intermediary, and other options. Also, this post does not include important topics like compliance, licensing, taxes, etc.  And for the sake of brevity, we’ll focus on French wines exported to the US, even though many of the same points apply to all wineries, and spirits brands.

  1. Articulate Your Brand Story in 30 Seconds

When in front of a buyer, state your brand’s key features and benefits in 1-2 sentences. Americans prioritize information from beginning to end; the most important info is at the beginning. Your first sentence or two should summarize your story and why a buyer should care. And make it relevant — for example, can you tie your brand story into recent trends? How is your wine or spirits brand different from the wines that he or she carries from around the world, not just France?

  1. Be an “Easy Sale”

For importers and wholesalers, an “easy sale” often has these components:

  • Addresses a Market Need: A differentiated brand that is relevant for, and targeted at, specific consumers and trends is very important. That is, the more your brand features are differentiated from competitors approaching the same desirable consumers, the better your chances of success.
  • Right pricing for category.
  • Fills a gap in a wholesaler’s portfolio – it is an incremental versus substitute sale, or in sales parlance, an accretive vs. dilutive sale.
  1. Share Your Marketing Plan

Have an organized, well-designed marketing presentation (PowerPoint is fine) that includes plans for in-market visits, digital marketing, in-store tastings, events, etc. Scores continue to be very important for importers and wholesalers, especially.

  1. Focus on a Few Markets

While not a truism, many successful brands start by focusing sales and marketing efforts in specific cities or regions, rather than attempting to be a national brand in the first few years. Why? You want to demonstrate sales success to help attract wholesalers in new states. Test and, if necessary, re-work your “home market” blueprint strategy to accommodate for the distribution and market specifics of your expansion markets.

  1. Maximize Chances to Gain Wholesaler Attention

Park Street gave a terrific presentation in 2018 that advises companies to prioritize retailer re-orders, as opposed to large case sell-ins. In other words, showing “turns” is very important to establishing retailer sales momentum.  Second, start with a small portfolio, maybe 2-3 individual wines, for the same reasons stated above. (While Park Street’s presentation concerned spirits brands, we have seen success using this strategy for wine brands. See link below.)

In summary, do your homework, have a plan, and ensure your plan is based on what the marketplace needs, rather than just what you can produce.

Everyone needs to “win” in your transaction:  consumers, retailers, restaurants, wholesalers and importers. There are at least 100,000 wines for sale in the U.S. which drove sales of an estimated 4.8 billion bottles of wine in 2018.  While it may sound harsh, assume no one in the US needs or cares about your brand. That will help frame the task ahead,  presenting a cohesive plan with the right wines, at the right prices, with a memorable story.

For more information, here are two good resources, which we draw from:

Finally, Benson has created a suite of services geared to help French wineries launch in the U.S.  For more information, contact Jeanne Peron, Directrice, at peron@bensonmarketing.com, or +33 (0)4 37 44 02 83