Treasuring the future
As we move further into 2021 the UK wine industry is waiting for the day when it can come up for breath and see what life will be like after both Covid-19 and Brexit.
It’s something that Michelle Brampton will be keeping a close eye on while continuing to push ahead with a number of other key projects.
She says: “It’s a really interesting time to steer the business through. We have a number of things we have been doing to prepare for Brexit, to make sure we have stock where we need it, and that we are compliant on labelling. That will run well into this year for us. And, of course, we will need to understand life after Covid, whether people are really going to travel again, and what consumer spend there will be. There is plenty there to keep us busy.”
Among other things currently on Brampton’s agenda is TWE’s commitment to and focus on sustainability, a project she has been heavily involved in.
She says: “We produced our sustainability report three years ago, so there’s been a huge amount of work going on in the background. What we have seen this past year is a shift to being a bit more strategic and a bit more ambitious. People are starting to realise that you can be doing all this great stuff but you also need to pull it all together and set the ambition. We need to accelerate and that’s what we are doing as a business generally.
“There has been a lot of work in the past six months setting out that ambition and the targets.” This includes activity ranging from solar panels, recycling and waste to water supply, which is a particularly big focus area in Australia.
TWE has also been working with the Carbon Trust on Lindemans to make the brand carbon neutral. This has now been certified for the brand across Europe. Brampton says: “Looking at it from a consumer perspective means we are looking at how we make that journey easier for them to be able to make more sustainable decisions.
“Everyone’s very busy and people want to do the right thing, but how easy is it to do that on a daily basis? We want to get an everyday brand to the point where it is a really easy choice in the shop for you to look at it and see that it’s a carbon neutral product. If you pick that up, then by making that decision you have done your bit for a more sustainable future. “And then obviously packaging is a big focus in the UK grocers as well, but understanding recycled content and recyclability and end-of-life disposal is one of the other projects we have done.
“We worked to bring 19 Crimes into a bag-in-box format, which is a much lower emission packaging solution, and then we worked to take out things like the plastic handle.”
TWE also recognises that bag-in-box wines have an obvious sustainability message in their packaging, and this is something that is increasingly resonating with consumers.
Brampton says: “In the Nordic markets bag-in-box is up to 50% of the sector. This is partly for convenience and partly because they are ahead in their thinking and focus on the environment.”
TWE established a cross-functional sustainability team a year ago for the UK office. Brampton says: “This was because there is a lot of information coming into the business from suppliers, from government affairs regulatory stuff, what the consumer insights guys are seeing, what the customers are saying to us, and so on.
“We bring all that information together and synthesise it into an action plan and a communication plan to be able to then drive things forward.
“Sometimes that’s forward to help our customers achieve their goals and sometimes that’s back up the supply chain. There’s been a huge amount of work and obviously I am very passionate about it as well from an employee perspective. It is very engaging, and you want to know your employer is taking the business in the right direction.”
Brampton has also been heavily involved in the company’s strategic shift to enhance its focus on premium and luxury fine wines.
She says: “When our new chief executive started in July, he evolved our vision to be the most admired premium wine company and I think that signals to everybody the journey that we are on.
“We have such an extraordinary collection of premium brands already that we need to make sure we are focusing on those.
“We are going with a trend I think we are seeing in most markets, which is that people are drinking less but drinking better. I think most of our shoppers are looking for a repertoire already anyway, with wines they might enjoy in the week and then something a bit more premium towards the weekend.
“So that’s the focus and it’s continuing on that journey and obviously Wolf Blass has that ability to stretch up through the tiers, as does Penfolds. They are the two biggest premium brands for us in this region.”
TWE’s ambition is to widen the offer here with its brands that are less well-known in the UK, such as Wynns, which is part of TWE’s Winery Collection portfolio.
“We have brought some new tiers of that to the UK in the past 12 months and then also from California we have got Beaulieu Vineyard and Beringer, so those brands [along with Penfolds] sit in that luxury area and that’s what you will really see in the Winery Collection.”
TWE approached the Winery Collection with a two-fold approach, which Brampton explains. “One was to give people access to these wines and the other element was to introduce them to the broader portfolio as well.”
The strategy for highlighting the wines in the Winery Collection hinges on events, which gives TWE the ability to sell directly to people. This method has obviously been challenging in the current marketplace, although Brampton says the Collection is doing “pretty well”.
She says: “Our ambition for it is to hang off those events and build it from there and, of course, we haven’t been in those face-to-face situations. We have been having a lot of virtual events and the whole team has adapted really quickly.
“I think there are opportunities whether it’s real or virtual events, but it is really early days for us. Basically, it was launched to give accessibility and to enable that connection with our consumers when we actually meet them through the events that we do.”
Brampton also ensures she is involved in work on a wider scale within the industry.
She says: “I am a big believer in trying to influence things for the good of the wider industry and if you don’t get involved in these things then people just aren’t aware of the challenges the industry faces – and there are plenty of them.”
This includes being a member of the Australia-UK Chamber of Commerce, alongside a number of other businesses which have interests both in the UK and Australia.
She says: “Of course there’s never been a better time to be involved when there’s a free trade agreement on the table so I joined the policy and advisory committee where it got together a number of industries in the first instance to try to understand what we would like to see.
“We led from a wine perspective and outlined what we would like to see in that free trade agreement.
“That’s been really powerful because the Chamber of Commerce has really good connections into government, so you get the very live updates of what’s going on at a point in time.
“The Chamber is very good at pulling together industry views and concerns across the sectors, but really simplifying it into something very pithy so that the messages get discussed in the right place. That’s been really fascinating to be involved in.
“And it absolutely makes a difference when it comes to talking about tariffs, regulations and standards in wine production and how to try to harmonise across both markets.”
Via the Wine & Spirit Trade Association Brampton is also involved in Wine Drinkers UK, which she says is “having a new lease of life again at the moment”.
She adds: “It’s been a good angle I think, and a bit different from what the WSTA has done before. You know, trying to get more wine companies to create a voice for wine that isn’t just about the trade body but about the companies involved.
“More importantly, it’s about the consumers and really trying to bust that myth that wine is just a drink for the elite who can afford to pay a bit more tax.
“It’s been really fascinating to do that from a government regulatory point of view, but then also putting a consumer spin on it. One of my favourite parts of the job in the past two years has been getting that external exposure and understanding how some of these things work.”