Part 3 – Sentient Wine and Beer brands Amp up Organic and Sustainability Messaging

Well that’s pretty much a wrap for September. How did you celebrate National Organic Month?

word cloud defining organic
Source: Canada Organic

If you’ve had the chance to read my last two blog posts (part 1, part 2), you’ll know I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about why we buy and the factors shaping our 2020 consumer behaviours. There’s nothing more sobering than a global pandemic and climate change’s ‘new normal’ to trigger a global reset.

For years, consumer concern regarding sustainability practices has been increasing. Research from March this year, suggests 83% of consumers now consider the environment when they purchase products and 78% say companies need to do more to explain the environmental impact of their products. Raging wildfires along the US west coast and record number of hurricanes in 2020 has been the backdrop to September’s food and wine harvest, so it’s fair to assume these concerns will only increase.

At the same time, health and wellness continues to drive Organic and Sustainable purchases. Younger consumers, in particular, see a link between their health and the health of the planet. There’s increased demand for alcoholic drinks that suit a healthier, more balanced lifestyle, and consumers are lining up behind organic brands that promise clean, pure, additive-free alternatives.

Avaline wine bottles - Rose and White wine

Clear, honest labelling and transparent marketing is the ‘other’ new normal. Hard seltzer, craft beer and more recently, the spitfire celebrity wine brand – Avaline – have made transparency – or lack thereof – a leading 2020 consumer brand driver.

In my last post we looked at brands that are targeted to the health and wellness-conscious consumer who want products that are ‘Better for ME’. In this post we’ll look at eco-aware and socially conscious consumers who want Organic* and Sustainably minded products that are ‘Better for WE.

I think these companies would get the Greta seal of approval.

‘BETTER FOR WE’ BRANDS

Bonterra Rose wine in cans and boxed wine
Bonterra has added eco-friendly packaging including cans and boxed wine
Bonterra’s digital advertising campaign : Tastes Like Saving the Planet

Bonterra Organic Vineyards

WE Focus: Goal of this campaign is to build awareness of Bonterra’s 30-year Organic commitment to the planet and bold, “pure” taste profile by injecting a dose of humour into the discussion

 “What does Saving the Planet taste likethe video asks?

I watch the occasional wine video on YouTube. So, it should come as no surprise that a digital advertising campaign from Bonterra Organic Vineyardsasking this very question – has been populating my feed.

“The nose on this is biodiversity”

“But it’s got a big, ethically-farmed finish”

“Mmmm….does this offset carbon dioxide emissions cuz I’m totally getting that (sniff)”

“You’ll also taste the hard work of a team of sheep – weeding the vineyard naturally, with their teeth”

“Mmmm ….ancient farming techniques”

Couple sampling Bonterra red wine

Bonterra is the original Organic wine estate in the US. It was established in 1987 and is one of the most recognized green wine brands in Canada and the US.

Officially, Bonterra says their “tastes like saving the planet” campaign is timed to coincide with the momentum around September’s Organic Month. I’d argue it’s also a response to Avaline’s introduction into the US market. Avaline is the summer organic celebrity brand (Cameron Diaz) which unfairly and irresponsibly claimed in their introductory salvo video – “most organic wine is blah”.

Re Bonterra? I love this campaign.

It’s nicely tongue-in-cheek approach sends up both the wine industry and the brand (self-deprecation requires confidence and credibility). Personally, I find the levity offers a welcome approach to wine marketing; a category that essentially has no sense of humour (please prove me wrong).

It’s also a category-building piece of creative, working hard to build awareness of organic wine. Aligning your wine purchase decisions with saving the planet is definitely not something most consumers think about. But it offers a USP — Unique Selling Proposition – something rarely seen in wine marketing. That approach makes it WE focused marketing, with messaging that focuses on the collective good vs. individual benefit. That alone should tell you something about the company!

My little family focus group (n=3 🙂 had this to say about the video:

“The mommy saving the planet bit is hilarious”, “nicely tongue in cheek”, “takes down all those stereotypes”, “it gets at the thing people dislike most about the wine community – the uppity, ostentatious and precious approach – and totally turns it on its head”, “it makes ethical and organic wine a good thing but not a BIG thing”, “ it normalizes being a responsible customer and wine producer”, “it’s not nasty and it doesn’t take aim at ‘other’ wines”, “it makes wine and organic wine a lot more inclusive”.

I think my family nailed it. I also like that the campaign offers a humourous take on climate change. Most sustainable marketing takes on a somber tone in line with the severity of the threat to the planet. (And let’s face it, there’s not a lot to laugh about when it comes to wildfires, species extinction, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, C02 induced climate change, deforestation and, and …. ok, I’ll stop).

Plus, there’s almost NO traditional TV-esque wine advertising in online or traditional consumer media, so this campaign really stands out. According to Bonterra’s senior brand manager Taylor Johnsen, the response to the campaign has exceeded all expectations with over 2 million video views.  Bonterra’s video ads can be seen on streaming platforms YouTube and Hulu targeted to culinary, entertainment and wellness minded digital media networks.

“We think the positive, tongue-in-cheek style of the campaign resonates well with consumers who care about climate change,” says Taylor. It also highlights the taste benefits of organic agriculture. “The quality and purity that organic agriculture ultimately brings to the wines is also a critical benefit.”

Bonterra commitment graphic

SERIOUS Green Cred

Bonterra is the 2020 California Green Medal winner in the Environment category. They’ve practiced regenerative agriculture for decades and soil fertility and increased organic carbon storage is at the heart of their vineyard operations. Bonterra recently conducted a pioneering soil study, which lends evidence to the regenerative agriculture argument that organic vineyards store more soil organic carbon than conventional vineyards. According to Taylor, they’ve shared this important finding with California state legislators.

The winery’s environmentally conscious approach to farming includes earth friendly practices like cover cropping, reduced tillage, compost application, animal grazing, integrated pest management, wildlife integration, and conservation of nearly 50% of its land as preserved wildland.

In addition to their vineyard stewardship, Bonterra is certified Zero Waste and CarbonNeutral®, and all of their energy is 100% green.

Bottle of Equinox organic red wine against green background
Regenerative farming poster

Market Performance

Taylor Johnsen says Canada is Bonterra’s number one export market with Canadian consumers spending $6.9 billion annually on organic products. Overall, Organic product sales are sales up +28% since 2017, making Canada a huge growth market. US Organic produce growth lags slightly, up 20% (April, 2020). It appears the pandemic has only increased customer’s desire for clean, healthy food.

Despite positive growth in organic products in recent years, only 4% of California’s farmland is certified organic, according to CCOF.

Bonterra brands their portfolio with the umbrella certification “Organic”. Wines produced from their own estate vineyards are biodynamic, and all grapes sourced from partner growers throughout California are certified organic.

King Estate ad that shows roots coming out of a bottle of wine that says we owe the future

King Estate

WE Focus: This prescient 2005 advertising campaign connects King Estate’s responsible vineyard eco-system to the planet’s long-term environmental health.
King Estate compost
King Estate’s Compost is loaded with healthy organic matter and microbial life. Image credit: King Estate

There aren’t many wineries that brag about the size of their compost pile. But King Estate does.  Marketing Director Ryan Johnson says their smouldering pile of pomace is an enormous source of pride. “We produce 1,000 tons of nutrient-rich compost a year,” he says proudly. “Everything that comes out of the earth – grape skins, seeds, stems, pulp – is recycled and goes back into the ground to add healthy organic matter to the soil.”  While there is no official vineyard compost competition, Ryan is “pretty sure” they have one of the largest winery compost piles in North America.

bottles of wine shaped into a fish ad that says the way we care for our rivers and lakes is our legacy

King Estate is situated at the tip of the Willamette Valley just southwest of Eugene, Oregon. I discovered this mission-driven estate through this very clever 2005 advertising campaign, long before Greta unleashed her climate change fury on the world. With severe wildfires ravaging Oregon and the western US states as I write, this message resonates more than ever.

I have huge respect for wine producers who lead with their values. They could be talking up the taste profile of their various wines, which is what 99% of wine brands do. Instead, co-owner Ed King has always placed family values and environmental stewardship at the top of King Estate’s message hierarchy.

“King Estate is a true model for eco-friendly grape growing and wine-making,” says Ryan. “Our whole corporate philosophy is rooted in sustainable agriculture and environmentally conscious business practices.” According to Ryan, all 1033 acres of King Estate are certified biodynamic (2016 Demeter US) and certified organic by Oregon Tilth, who have the “most rigorous standards in the US”,  making King Estate one of the largest organic vineyards in the world.

King produces a variety of wines in this space – from their completely biodynamic estate wines, to certified organic wines where grapes come from other growers. Every bottle is labelled for clarity and transparency. “We’re all about transparency and don’t want to mislead customers into thinking all our wines are 100% biodynamic,” says Ryan. King Estate makes another 100,000 cases of their other brands, including North by Northwest and Next. “All of our growers farm sustainably and many are Salmon Safe Certified vineyards,” he points out.

Scroll through their website and Instagram feed and you see a winery that values sustainable land management, customer education and employee contributions as much as they do producing outstanding Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. 

King Estate biodynamic Pino Gris

True Ecological Stewardship

Hard evidence of King’s planet-friendly priorities is well documented. They nurture biodiversity, protecting Native Wet Prairie wetlands and have 40 acres of Oak woodlands on the property. They are a partner release site for the Cascades Raptor Centre, an organization which works to rescue and rehabilitate birds.

King Estate ensures crop diversity by growing 14 acres of orchards, including pears, plums, apples and raspberries. They raise bees, producing around 100 pounds of honey, and have an acre of lavender ensuring a heavenly scent for visitors in the early summer months.

Instagram picture of biodynamic vegetable greens

There are 30 acres of organic gardens growing vegetables for their restaurant’s use and they grow all their own cover crop seed. Cover crops between the rows is another sustainable, carbon sequestering tool that keeps carbon in soil (vs the atmosphere) while welcoming beneficial pests, retaining moisture in the vineyards and contributing healthy microorganisms to the soil.

A key pillar of their sustainability strategy is renewable energy. Their four acres of solar panels will eliminate more than 38 million pounds of carbon dioxide over the next 25 years – equivalent to 1.9 million gallons of gasoline.

King Estate is a vineyard that puts protecting the environment at the top of their agenda.

Fat Tire can in green nature environment

Fat Tire Beer

WE Focus: The shocking reality of climate change’s cost impact makes Fat Tire’s status as America’s first certified carbon-neutral beer all the more newsworthy.
poster - we don't want to live in a world where a 6 pack costs $100

I’m a loyal listener of the New York Time’s news podcast called “The Daily”.

During the thirsty months of August and September, a Fat Tire – Drink Sustainably ad was in heavy rotation. It talked about the potential implications of climate change on beer, including six packs sporting price tags of (gasp) $100!!! Of course, this bit of shock-vertising (aka -hyperbole), did exactly what it was intended to do. It drove me to their website and the NYT broadsheet ad – which was also part of the campaign.

Fat Tire is one of our family’s favourite beers. It’s brewed in Canada by Steamwhistle (also eco-motivated), but the mother ship is in Fort Collins, Colorado. If you count yourself as a planet-loving, climate-change-concerned consumer who supports thoughtful companies with well-defined sustainable practices, you’ll LOVE Fat Tire. Parent company New Belgium (now owned by Kirin) is a relentlessly ethical company and has been green-minded since they brewed their first beer 32 years ago.

Fat Tire is all about social responsibility and making a difference in the world. They align business practices and beer marketing with corporate values. They’re having broad cultural conversations with consumers around voting, responsible energy consumption, local sourcing, smart transportation choices – i.e. bike more/car less – and more.

They are a Certified B Corporation – which means they balance purpose and profit. They’re part of a community of leaders that use business for good. 1% of profit sales goes to philanthropy – which they’ve prioritized as protecting public lands and supporting environmental groups in the US.

Fat Tire’s current campaign states they are America’s first certified carbon neutral beer. They’ve achieved this goal by investing in renewable energy and reducing emissions in their production operations and supply chains. They have a ten-year action plan which they share with consumers online. Interestingly, they acknowledge purchasing carbon offsets is part of their current carbon footprint management plan, but not a viable long-term plan for the planet.

$100 for a 6 pack poster

Fear Mongering or Plain Speak?

Their current $100/6-pack campaign is definitely shock-vertising, but I’d argue it’s a highly ethical use of the technique to drive the point home.

The problem/solution approach acknowledges the impact climate change is having on global agriculture (erratic weather, drought, hurricanes, deforestation, dead soils, wild fires, etc.) noting if this continues, $100 beer will be the least of our problems. The economic consequences of climate change ‘plain speak’ in the ad may be fear mongering to some, and a reality check to others.

I also love how they’ve identified Covid as a global wake-up call. Covid is no picnic but “bigger disasters loom if we don’t – as consumers and producers – start investing in prevention and long-term thinking”.

Mill St. Organic beer - 4 cans

Mill St. Brewery

WE Focus: Sustainable, eco and socially conscious community brewery

With an earth-friendly philosophy, Mill St.Brewery is the original certified Organic beer in Ontario. Launching in 2002, they’re also the largest producer of certified Organic beer in Canada with grassroots brewpubs in St. John’s, Ottawa, Toronto (3) and Calgary.

Their ever-expanding portfolio includes over 60 unique beers earning them over 100 awards, including 3-time Canadian Brewery of the Year. It’s fair to say their Organic status applies to their brewing processes and core values. (Mill St. was recently purchased by Labatt which, in turn, is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev)

According to Vice President of Marketing – Sam Jacobs, it’s a good time to be a beer lover. “Beer consumers, have more choice in styles, flavours and ingredients than we’ve ever had before,” he says. “We feel Organic plays a significant role in the decision process because it doesn’t only signify a more rigorous brewing process, but premium ingredients too.”

Their new tagline “Make it Organic” is an overt call to action for consumers, dialling up the importance of doing the right thing.

Mill Street Organic Instagram
“Thanks for keeping it clean and preservative free for sensitive people like me!”

Walking the Sustainability Walk

Mill St. has implemented a number of eco-friendly practices and initiatives to reduce energy consumption, recover and repurpose heat, conserve water, ensure compostable and renewable packaging, recycle materials and spent mash and add eco-friendly packaging.

In 2019, they reduced their energy consumption by 12.4%, water usage by 17.8% and increased waste diversion by 12.5%. “Sharing our achievements isn’t in our nature,” admits Sam. “We believe in the Organic process because we feel that it’s good for our farmers and community. Same goes for our sustainability achievements – we should be cutting energy and water where we can because it’s the right thing to do.”

Black is Beautiful Imperial Stout from Mill Street to support black community in Toronto

Mill St.’s sustainability initiatives go beyond production methods. They’re progressive and community minded, supporting social impact campaigns like Black Lives Matter. Their Black Stout Beer was brewed as metaphorical, industry-wide support for the black legal action fund & the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce. They also support Black Creek Community Farm.

These guys are a great example of sustainability in action – get out and support them, Canada!

Feature “sheep” photo: Bonterra Organic and Biodynamic Vineyards – biodynamic viticulture at work!

*Farming Methods

CONVENTIONAL

Farming practices adopted widely in the 1960s that permit the use of synthetic non-organic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers for management of crops and competitive vegetation.

ORGANIC

Agricultural practices that exclude the use of synthetic non-organic inputs—such as herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer—in favor of fostering the natural vitality of the farm through integrated pest management, cover crops, and building healthy soil. Learn more at ccof.org.

BIODYNAMIC

Formally defined in 1924, an approach to organic cultivation that views the farm as a living organism where plants, animals, and humans interrelate as members of an intricately connected ecosystem that follows the cycles of nature. Learn more at demeter-usa.org.

Source: Bonterra Vineyards

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