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I Heart wine: the story behind a runaway success

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Wine behind Heart story success

I Heart wine: the story behind a runaway success

By Martin Green

 | 28 November, 2018

I Heart wine: the story behind a runaway success

A group of wine producers and students gathered at the WSET’s London offices this month to learn from the team behind the successful I Heart brand.

The brand has enjoyed 42% off-trade sales growth to reach the £74.7 million mark this year (IRI, year to September 2018). That makes it the 13th largest wine brand in the UK and it is now exported to 46 different countries too.

That has enabled parent company Copestick Murray to become one of the leading lights in the trade, but back in 2010 its situation was looking a lot less rosy. “Good ideas are often formed when a business is in crisis,” said managing director Robin Copestick.

The firm had enjoyed a strong five years, creating many brands for other people, but it had nothing to call its own and it was suddenly plunged into a perilous situation where the management feared for its future. They called every member of staff in for a crisis meeting and asked everyone to come up with concepts for a new brand.

“All ideas were welcome, no ideas were stupid and we asked everybody what they thought,” said Copestick. “The team came in, about 13 or 14 people, and there were some silly ideas and some very good ideas, but nothing really inspired.

“Then right at the end one of the people working for me [Rachel Archer] said, ‘this is terrible, you’re going to hate it, but it’s an idea I came up with’. I looked at it and I just thought, ‘that it what we are looking for’. I often say it’s the quiet people that have the best ideas.”

The idea was I Heart and the next day Copestick took it to his label designer in Soho. “He looked at it and said, ‘that is genius, why didn’t I think of that?’ We quickly took it to market, commercialised it and here we are now.”

It has evolved into a behemoth containing all manner of SKUs and it is now the fastest growing top 20 wine brand in the UK, while exports are surging. But at the start of the journey, Copestick struggled to win over some of the wine trade’s leading buyers.

I Heart wine: the story behind a runaway success

The team conducted extensive consumer research and believed it was a strong proposition, but buyers were unconvinced. The first major buyer to take a punt on it was Alex Green of Sainsbury’s, who now works for Copestick Murray as its national off-trade manager. His account of his decision to list the brand is entertaining and enlightening.

“When I was at Sainsbury’s and Robin came to me and put the I Heart brand to me in its initial concept, with a Pinot Grigio, a Merlot and a White Zinfandel from California, I knew nothing about wine, and that’s probably why I decided it was a good idea,” he said. “I had come straight from the Sainsbury’s graduate scheme and decided I wanted to be a buyer and the next available job in head office happened to be in wine. I replaced Julian Dyer, who went on to be the managing director of Australian Vintage, and I was probably the first junior buyer that was not a wine person. Robin showed me the brand and it made sense.

“I had just been on a commercial course and spent three days being taught how to negotiate, and in this meeting with Robin I had a maximum price I would accept, a price I was going to go in at. It was my first ever negotiation.

“I said I really like it, but I need you to get to €1.50 a bottle, and Robin just said, yep, fine, done. So at that point I realised that the negotiation course hadn’t worked.

“I went upstairs and our wine buyers, who all know about wine – Michelle Smith, who has now gone back to South Africa; Julie Buckley, who is now in a senior position at Majestic; David Peak, who has gone on to run his own company and also worked for Copestick Murray for a time – they all looked at me and said, ‘what are you doing? Robin Copestick was in last week showing us the exact same wine and we all told him to go away, because this is not wine’.

“It went in eventually, after several weeks of a constant barrage of people telling me I had made a mistake, and in its first week I Heart Pinot Grigio sold £100,000. At the time that was a big deal. It would probably have ranked in the top 20 products immediately, and they all sort of went, ‘oh, actually, it’s not so bad, we’ll see how it continues to go’.”

It continued to go great guns and it is now listed in all the big four UK retailers and many convenience chains. It has just become the UK’s third best-selling sparkling brand after Freixenet and Moët & Chandon and still wine sales are surging too, while it is getting into cans, bag in box and personalised bottles.

“The wine market had a problem in selling to the 95% of consumers who don’t know anything about wine, and I Heart is one of the answers to that,” said Green. “Wine is made by people that know about wine, for people that know about wine, and it’s bought by people that think they know a lot about wine. And actually the consumer at the end is at best an afterthought.

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