Part 2 – Sentient Wine and Alcohol Brands Amp up Organic and Sustainability Messaging

What’s more motivating? Better for Me or Better for the Planet?

Understanding why we buy is one of the great 21st century marketing challenges.

Neuromarketers say 90+% of the purchase decisions we make are governed by our subconscious, shaped by emotional drivers and motivations we don’t even know are at play. Those Levi’s jeans, that maverick red Jeep, Seventh Generation dish soap? They’re all part of my algorithmically curated digital media landscape. Each of these brands is sending messages my way, molding my psyche, building faux confidence (Levi’s), tapping my wild-side (Jeep) and making me feel like I’m doing something noble and planet-responsible (yes, all that in dish soap).

Some companies forgo emotional selling, presenting ‘just the facts’. They provide concrete information, and rational brand messages to help us make more informed, conscientious purchase decisions (think: fridges, life insurance, payload & towing-capacity truck advertising).

But what we know about why we buy is not 2020-proof.

Factor in economic anxiety, physical disruption and real-world influences like COVID-19, climate change, social upheaval, healthier eating, mental health concerns, and all those marketing lessons learned and behavioural modelling goes out the window. Beer brands selling unfettered good times right now would be tone deaf. Luxury brands pitching overt materialism….doesn’t quite resonate when you’re quarantining with your cat.

Consumers are increasingly relying on their rational brains to assess brands and they’re asking more of the companies they support. They want honesty, transparency, a reduced ecological footprint, and a social conscience. It can’t be just about making money.

poster - 86% of Americans want companies to stand for something other than making money

Companies, in turn, are “pivoting”, offering features that align with these changing user sensibilities – electric cars, dairy-free milk, plant-based meat, carcinogen-free cosmetics, zero waste brands, reselling/upcycled products, standard shipping vs rush delivery and on and on it goes.

2020: A LOT of factors in play

In the food and alcohol categories, Organic and Sustainable products have moved from the fringe to mainstream. Our purchase decisions now consider local, greenhouse gases, industrial agriculture and “free-froms” – like harmful pesticides/herbicides, sugar, gluten, dairy and animal by-products.

Sustainable alcohol brands are responding in kind, line-extending to offer no-alcohol, low-alcohol, low-cal, no-cal, carb conscious, vegan-friendly, gluten-free, clean, green, carbon-neutral, regenerative and environmentally friendly options. Some of these products are better for you and maybe a little better for the planet. Some brands are better for the planet and maybe a little better for you.

Why do YOU buy?

What is your ‘hierarchy of needs’ (marketing-speak but we’re here today to ask the hard questions!!)

Are you ingredient focused? Flavour driven? Is ‘drinking smarter’ a motivator? Health and wellness important? Are you ideologically driven?  Do you care about the values and beliefs of the companies you support and the brands you buy? And what do they need to do to convince you?

Do you buy with your rational brain or emotional brain? Where do your priorities lie? Better for me or better for the planet? Are the wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and soaring temperatures changing your buying behaviour? Are you swayed by celebrity promises and social media discourse or are you just about the facts (baby)?

Or maybe, you don’t think about any of this stuff and ya just want wine that tastes delicious. End of story.

As I said in my last post, brand messages can tell you a lot about a company’s core values and beliefs. Let’s have look at some “drinks” companies on the Organic and Sustainable spectrum and see if their messages and values align with yours.

Here’s my take:

BETTER FOR ME BRANDS

Avaline

Focus: MEAvaline partners Cameron Diaz and Katherine Power understand modern millennial women want honest, transparent wine that’s organic, clean and naturally delicious.
Instagram post with two women drinking wine

It’s fair to say the wine trade has come down pretty hard on Avaline – the latest celebrity wine to hit the market (available in the US only…..for now). Their introductory video claims “most organic wine just doesn’t taste good” which is of course an untrue, sophomoric claim reeking of opportunism. But subsequent digital videos and interviews are focusing on their “clean + transparent = better for you” journey, which is where the celebrity duo have really found a launchpad!

Avaline advertising hit the digital marketplace in July. This new wine brand is the love-child of actor turned health author, Cameron Diaz and digital superstar Katherine Power.  Together, they form a formidable marketing team, combining to create a ME focused ‘healthy, honest, everyday wine brand’ that’s perfectly attuned to the ages.

I’ve followed the social media and e-commerce ascent of magazine editor Katherine Power for 14 years. She’s a case study on how to market to millennial women and she’s brilliant at incubating and building online brands. She and partner Hilary Kerr created the fashion blog @WhoWhatWear in 2006, moving quickly to WWW retail and fashion books. She launched a raft of fashion and lifestyle e-commerce verticals through the @cliquemediagroup, selling some of them off in 2019. Most recently she launched the hugely buzzy skincare brand @Versed. Available at Target and Shopper’s Drug Mart in Canada, her skincare line is free of toxins with minimalist packaging. Now, she’s exporting all these digital and brand building ‘lessons learned’ to her new wine brand.

Her Avaline partner, Hollywood superstar Cameron Diaz was a fast-food junkie who discovered healthy eating and her ‘six pack’ when she was cast in Charlie’s Angels. She retired from acting several years ago to focus on being a health author, activist and entrepreneur. “We should all be experts in our own bodies,” she told the LA Times in 2014 after publishing the first of two, NYT’s bestselling health books.

Together, Cameron Diaz and Katherine Power are showing the wine industry how to build online relationships. Their target? Young, digitally astute and fashion-conscious women who’ve been raised in/by an entrepreneurial celebrity and influencer culture, with health and wellness messaging the wallpaper in their lives. They like wine, and they really like Cameron’s celebrity aura. The media has taught them to care about what they’re putting in their bodies so Avaline is the Manna-from-heaven brand for them (read the comments folks).

Avaline wine in rose and white

Wine’s White Knights: Riding the Transparency Wave

Pooling their entrepreneurial spirit, health concerns and love of wine, the pair have successfully identified a long-acknowledged and much-debated flaw in FTC/CFIA regulated wine packaging, which is that wine and alcohol producers don’t have to disclose wine ingredients and additives in their labelling.

This lack of transparency has also provided a platform for the hard seltzer industry who have successfully scooped market share from wine and beer categories, with no added sugar and low to no carbs and calorie claims. Transparency is a huge issue in the organic food category and it’s becoming a black eye for wine brands that target young (fitness-app-addicted) consumers…. thanks to Avaline (read this story for a much deeper dive on the issue).

when wine comes clean teaser

The Diaz/Power suggestion that wine producers – en masse – load their wine with chemicals (as many as ~72 additives) is patently untrue, and a gross generalization. Most small, artisanal winemakers don’t go near them, preferring to let the terroir speak for itself. But some conventional and large, industrial wine companies do. And with no transparency around labelling ingredients how would we know? Of course, these two marketing savvy women have tapped this fear-based, PLATINUM-level “insight”, pouncing on this brand messaging opportunity.

This transparency issue, fuelling concern around additives, disparaging the flavour profile of current organic producers – it’s all served to position Avaline’s owners as the white knights of the wine industry. And they’ve successfully channeled their outrage (!) and naivité into a highly strategic brand that promises integrity, transparency, and a front label that discloses all.

Instagram post showing the white wine at the beach
Avaline’s social media is brilliantly social. Their Instagram Stories (below) tell the fully “transparent”, clean wine story on carbs, calories, sugar content, animal byproducts and more!

Masters of Media

Avaline’s use of digital media is masterful. Katherine is the ‘back-end’ whiz and they’ve leveraged her ten years of data insights gleaned from content marketing to women. Cameron is the face of the brand and she’s got her ‘talking points’ down to a science. She’s been hitting the interview circuit, with all content posted on the Avaline Instagram site. Of note, her interview with bestie and Goop health goddess Gwenyth Paltrow, is Cameron at her most sincere and most vulnerable (on brand). Definitely worth some social listening and learning! Their social media is high-level social, with tons of consumer engagement and “distribution” DM follow-up.

On the production side they’re promising a delicious, clean, vegan, “everyday” wine experience – with organic grapes and without any harsh chemicals or animal by-products (egg whites are used as fining agents by some producers).

The brand has launched with a white from Spain and a Rosé from Provence. Expect a fall red wine to drop any day.

“Our farmers are generational farmers,” says Cameron, who’s the wine making expert in their partnership. “We chose generational wine-makers who have been doing this for a long time and have a reverence for the land.”  “And we don’t really talk about the varietals because our customers would just say yea, but what does it taste like?” adds Katherine in an interview on wine.com. “We know our consumers and they are demanding transparency and better-for-you products. Hopefully we’re kicking the door open on the industry….this is really an invitation to the industry to be more transparent.”

Ouch.

Instagram discussion on how to buy the wine in Idaho and Canada

Focus Group Learning? (n=4 🙂)

I’m not Avaline’s target, but my 29 yo daughter and her friends are. The wine isn’t here in Canada – yet – but they definitely have thoughts on the marketing….

“I’d drink this”( all agree), “it feels very accessible”, “so much wine is pretentious and not an inclusive space”, “they’re not going to judge me for putting ice in my glass” “art direction is A+”, “I love the whole brand aesthetic”, “it’s delicate, pretty”, “the design is clean – like the wine”, “it feels very mejuri”,

“the marketing is genius”, “it’s cute and on-trend”,  “consumers have been moving to clean/natural products so I see that as a plus”, “the vibe I get is very working, white woman” “their IG uses simple explanations which makes me think they’re targeting younger women who don’t have much experience buying or drinking wine” “I feel like this is something I’ll see influencers drinking on my discover page, lol”, “Cameron oozes positivity”, “I think they’ve got this”,

 “I care more about vegan than organic”, “wtf – I didn’t know wine’s not vegan”

“We’re not that special,” concedes Cameron in an interview with her pal Gwenyth Paltrow “and there are so many wines that do what we do. But you just can’t identify them because there’s no ingredient labelling.” “Somms in restaurants didn’t know either. Yes, they know terroir and food pairings but they couldn’t tell us what went into the wine”.

Maha Organic Seltzer product lineup of flavours

Maha Organic Hard Seltzer

Focus: ME – Maha targets athletes and fitness buffs who want a tasty, low-cal/low-carb/low-alcohol organic option to meet their occasional alcohol indulgences.

If there’s one category that’s transforming the alcohol world it’s hard seltzers. It’s the Ryan Reynolds of the flavoured malt beverage world, albeit a lot less funny. 

According to Nielsen, the number of ready to drink (RTD) hard seltzer entries has grown from 10 in 2018, to 26 in 2019 to 65 (and climbing) in 2020. Most are malt/beer based (companies in US pay a lower tax rate on malt – a fact I learned when I did a profile on White Claw owner, Anthony von Mandl). Interestingly, the rock star brand in Canada is a vodka-soda entry called Nutrl (recently bought by Labatt).

According to Nieslen (US data), hard seltzers have taken a serious bite out of the wine category (-4 share points vs year ago/March – April 2020) and the beer category (-5.6 share points vs year ago/March – April 2020). White Claw and Truly are the most recognized brands and combined, own 75% of the US market (June 13, 2020).

Maha Organic targets the health & wellness – ‘Better for ME’ – focused consumer

Interestingly, Maha is a bit player right now but it’s the only ‘USDA certified organic’ offering in the hard seltzer category. And, it’s produced by Anheuser-Busch & Golden Road Brewing which means it has deep pockets and significant growth potential.

Maha is firmly rooted on the ME side of the brand value continuum. It’s advertising tagline is “designed for a balanced lifestyle, full of flavor”. Drill down into that copy line and what they’re really saying is yes, alcohol is an indulgence but give yourself permission and have an occasional drink.

Maha Organic Seltzer product label

This audience DEMANDS transparency

Hard seltzers dominate the young, calorie/carb/ABV conscious, fitness-tracker/app-owning consumer segment. This audience DEMANDS transparency, with many young consumers tracking their macro nutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) to help guide weight loss. The backlash on the wine industry’s lack of transparency is, in part, fuelled by Hard Seltzer’s high-level disclosure practices. Check out this My Fitness Pal Reddit comment stream for a little ‘social learning’ (aka eavesdropping) on diehard calorie counters. 

Maha claims they’re targeting ‘wellness minded’ young drinkers who are mindful of what they’re putting in their bodies and who only want the best when it comes to ingredients. The product was designed in collaboration with professional athletes and you meet these athletes on their Instagram page.

Containing 110 calories per can and clocking in at 4.2% ABV, the new entry is made from 100% USDA certified organic ingredients and blended with fruit juice, cascara and sea salt and vitamins and minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium with no added sugars. The line-up is available in three different flavours: raspberry, tangerine yuzu, and black cherry.

By contrast, category leader White Claw’s tagline is “made pure”. Whether clean or pure, it’s all about less (ingredients) is more.

Net: Organic – in the context of hard seltzers – means clean, not green.

Coors Organic can of beer - 90 calories

Coors Organic

Focus: ME – Coors goal is to recover lapsed (to hard seltzers) health-minded beer drinkers with a ‘less is more’ mindset

My neighbourhood has been colonized by Coors Organic outdoor billboards.

At this time of year, food brands often remind parents of their health benefits as they compete for ‘share of lunch-box’. Now, powerhouse beer brand Coors is picking up the flag, promoting a back-to-school healthier choice lifestyle message for adults.

The brand lives squarely at the Better for ME end of the Organic values continuum. The only nod to nature and the environment is the familiar mountain graphic on the label.

Coors Organic poster - saying light beer

Coors Light has always been a perennial favourite of calorie and ABV conscious women. I’m guessing Coors Light has taken a serious hit with the growth of hard seltzers and Organic offers a way to ‘up their wellness game’, and ‘claw’ back some of that lost market share. But their stated target of ‘confused and overwhelmed’ beer drinkers suggests Organic is seen as a safe harbour in a sea of choice.

This healthy “pivot” – undoubtedly the WORD of the pandemic – promotes a message of simplicity. The clean, sparse graphics reinforce the message in spades. The beer is brewed with “minimal ingredients” – promising an “elevated” crisp, clean, taste experience. Made with organic hops and organic barley, the strategy here is to squarely position ‘Organic’ as a low cal (90 calories), low carb (4 grams), low alcohol (3.8% abv) healthier alternative. No corporate values messaging here….just single-minded, competitive, brand-sell. 

UP NEXT – Better for the Planet brands…..stay tuned for Part 3.

Feature photo: Solar panels at Niner Wine Estates in Paso Robles California

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