A few weeks ago a box of wine arrived at my front door. Since I write about wine for international publications, being sent samples for review is a fairly regular occurrence. This time, however, something was very different. For the first time in my career as a writer on wine, I was sent a box of samples that included... not wine.

The box from Wölffer Estate Vineyard on Long Island included two mini-bottles of something labeled "Petite Rosé," a sparkling alcohol-free juice beverage made, the back label states, "from pressing unripe vinifera grapes into a uniquely refreshing drink or mixer."

I felt a little disoriented. On second thought, however, the move makes perfect sense for this winery in two specific ways--and every entrepreneur should learn from the strategy. Here's why.

It's as on-brand as it gets.

Bottling "mini rosé" is perfectly on-brand for this producer. Wölffer is a very well-respected producer of sustainably farmed vines in Sagaponack, New York. The box of samples I received also included "regular" rosé wines (with alcohol), but I found myself distracted by the non-alcohol Petite Rosé.

The tasting sheet for this "verjus spritzer," made from grapes grown on the North Fork of Long Island, encourages "anybody who does not want to drink alcohol" to enjoy it chilled casually with any meal, in a flute for an elegant toast, as the main ingredient for a cocktail, or incorporated into sauces or salad dressings.

The takeaway? I can think of several, and they apply to any business that's concerned with smart strategy around brand extensions:

  • Turn your core offering on its head to generate interest and awareness. Even though wineries by definition are alcohol-driven businesses, opening the door to a non-alcoholic product line boosts curiosity in the brand itself, particularly when the brand emphasizes its sensitivity to consumers who can't or don't want to consume alcohol.
  • Reconsider packaging and the context for the experience of your product. The small-format (375 ml) Petite Rosé bottles align perfectly with another popular trend in the wine industry right now, which is packaging wine in single-serving cans. The small format is also a "fit" for outdoor/picnic meals and the summer season, which is like Christmas in July for rosé producers.
  • Embrace the freedom and versatility of something new or weird. Every wine sample comes with a "tech sheet," or a one-page summary of the most important information about the wine, like vintage, grape varietal and tasting notes. On the tech sheet for the Petite Rosé, Wölffer emphasized the versatility of the product. It's an injection of freedom, when wine itself often seems to adhere to a fairly strict status quo. Also, the more ways you incorporate the Petite Rosé into your lifestyle, the more bottles of it you buy.

It taps into a trend that matters to your audience.

The second logical reason for a wine brand to offer a non-wine product is grounded in the movement, in the U.S. and abroad, of consumers drinking less and less alcohol. That's both in terms of quantity and in terms of percentage of alcohol within the beverage itself.

It's a real trend. Plenty of companies--the beverage giant AB InBev, for example--created new global positions last year for nonalcoholic beverage efforts. Nonalcoholic drinks like as energy drinks and nonalcoholic beers already make up more than 10 percent of AB InBev's volumes.

What business wouldn't want in on that? It means pivoting, often with the help of more innovative technologies.

Companies from California to France have gotten in on the act. A non-alcoholic offering from Paso Robles, California, for example, follows much the same protocol as many "regular wines," from sustainably managed winery to fermentation in stainless steel to aging in oak barrels. The differentiator? Removing the alcohol just before bottling by using a cold filtration method.

Conventional? Almost, except for that last step.

It's the classic "same but different" story. Do these no-alcohol wines look the same in the glass? Yes, which means they fit within the comfort zone of consumers who are mindful of this particular priority. Yet the wines are different in the way that, in an increasing number of situations, matters most.

It may be that your business will benefit from exploring a total 180 pivot, or it may be that you can keep everything the same except for that one last twist at the end. Either way, there's benefit in experimenting with what is, seemingly, contrary business strategy.

Published on: Mar 29, 2019
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