Passion for wine, zeal for independents

Felicity Billington , Marketing Manager at Ehrmanns, tells Asian Trader about the company’s plans for its wine brands and how it is supporting independent retailers.
AT: Can you tell us about your background and how you came to be Marketing Manager of Ehrmanns?
FB: I love food and wine. I have a wine background in that I have a diploma in WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) but I am a marketeer mainly. After working in lighting my passion for languages and wine led me to hunt Ehrmanns down about nine years ago. I asked them to employ me, which they did. I was brand manager for Arniston Bay before I left to expand my knowledge of wine to work with some of the leading Italian and Spanish wine producers. I rejoined Ehrmanns in 2012 to oversee the marketing department and act as brand manager for Luis Felipe Edwards and Robert Oatley among others.
AT: Your title is Marketing Manager. What does that involve?
FB: I look after all of our corporate marketing. It has gone through an evolution in the last couple of years. We relaunched our corporate identity last year. That involved the launch of our website and our portfolio tastings which was the first time we did that. I also look after our bigger branded wines like Luis Felipe Edwards, Robert Oatley and Giesen. I have a brand manager hat on for those. I also look after our off trade Spanish wines like Carta Roja and Castillo de Calatrava. It is varied but good.
AT: Can you tell us about some of your major brands and explain why they are so significant?
FB: We have been working with Luis Felipe Edwards for 16 months. The company is one of the major players in Chile. Their philosophy is elevating quality, they have made huge investments to ensure the wines are the best you will get at that price point. I think they do that really well. We are seeing our sales increase because of that. They have also invested in the top end of things. They have the highest vineyards in Colchagua where they produce single vineyard, very low production boutique wines. If you are looking for something from Chile, Luis Felipe Edwards will give you that.
Robert Oatley we have been working with for two years. Bob Oatley was the founder of Rosemount in the 1960s and pioneered the Australian wine category in the UK. He set up his business in 2006, a much smaller operation, working with specific regions which he felt showcase the varietals at their best. The Signature series is his flagship range of wines. They are regional expressions. They are moving towards a new wave Australian wine approach and moving away from the big Aussie blockbusters so it is much more refined styles and elegant. I think back in the late 90s and early 2000s people were wanting those big blockbusters but we feel Robert Oatley have pitched it right and the style of wine is suited to consumers today.
Prosecco growth is phenomenal and shows no signs of letting up. We are well poised because we have got La Gioiosa and Villa Sandi on our books. They do proseccos at all quality levels. We also operate in prosecco outside of those two brands. We do a number of own label and exclusive proseccos. That has been a big growth area for us.
Giesen from New Zealand is mainly Marlborough sauvignon. They had some harvest issues two vintages ago but now with the exchange rate I think we will see prices come down there. People still can’t get enough of New Zealand sauvignon. Sauvignon is still the number one varietal in the UK and New Zealand accounts for 47 per cent of it. I don’t think that is going to go away either.
AT: What are your plans for your brands this year?
FB: At the moment we are running a cashback activity with Giesen. From our perspective it is about driving distribution in the channel but from a wholesalers’ point of view it is about giving them something. For every four cases you buy you get £5 cashback. Up to 24 cases the retailer gets £60 cashback. We appreciate margins are tight and people need all the help they can get.
We have launched new products under Carta Roja, one of our leading Spanish brands, organic and also entry wines – a sauvignon and a tempranillo, priced £6.99.
This year we have launched for the first time an impulse specific brochure. In the past we have only had a brochure which is not targeted at the independents and specialists. But we appreciate we need to talk slightly differently to the wholesalers and also we have a range of wines that is different.
AT: How important do you believe is the wine category for independent retailers?
FB: Wine is deemed as a luxury product but everybody is drinking it. Wine sales have slowed as a result of the recession but it is a category that is always going to be there. It is pretty crowded out there and margins are tighter for everybody but the wine category is not going to go away.
AT: How important is the independent channel for Ehrmanns?
FB: We have been working specifically in that channel for the last six or seven years. It counts for about 10-12 per cent of our business. For a company of our size we are relatively unique in that we supply all trade channels. A lot of brands come to us to distribute their products because we can supply all channels including convenience and independents.
AT: What support are you giving specifically for independent retailers?
FB: We have a team of three called the EIS team, which is the Ehrmanns Independent Selection team. They specifically target independent retailers. We have had that in place since 2003. We have a dedicated sales force, dedicated POS for that channel and a dedicated range for them.
We appreciate that with the fallout of Wine Rack and places like that, a lot of traditional off-licences are moving into convenience. We are happy to work with them to help them achieve that, whether it is working on mailers or point of sale specifically for that channel. We are happy to do that.
AT: You have a selection of Fairtrade and organic wines. Do you think these are becoming more important to consumers? Should retailers offer a selection of Fairtrade and organic wines?
FB: Fairtrade sales are still increasing. The latest figures we had were to February 2013. They were up 11 per cent year on year. The Fairtrade Foundation tends to only release figures every February in time for their Fairtrade fortnight. I don’t have figures for where we are now but there is still demand from consumers. I think now quality is still very much at the forefront of Fairtrade and organic wine. I think the perception has changed. If the quality is not there people might buy the wine once but they won’t buy it again. I first worked for Ehrmanns in 2005, I went away and came back again in 2012. The quality has increased significantly since I was first at Ehrmanns. Nowadays it is an added benefit for wines to be Fairtrade rather than having to sell themselves solely on the basis of being Fairtrade. It is more that this is a great wine and it happens to be Fairtrade.
AT: As a consumer which of your brands do you prefer?
FB: I like different wines for different occasions. On Friday night I like a La Gioiosa prosecco DOC. It is an approachable, really nice drink, just because it is sparkling. It is not for a special occasion, just for a Friday night.