Light lunch

Lunching ladies have created a gap in the lucrative drinks market. Clare Dowdy charts the brand development of a wine-maker’s new reduced alcohol drink

Australian wine-maker Southcorp believes it has spotted a gap in its market: although many people enjoy a drink or two over lunch, they often still want to be coherent for the rest of the afternoon. This may be difficult to achieve after a full strength bottle of wine, which has an alcohol count of 10 per cent or more.

Southcorp’s research has shown that these drinkers are mainly women. They aren’t likely to swap to lager and may not be partial to the taste of existing low or non-alcohol wine. Those products are generally only bought by people who perceive themselves as having no choice – pregnant women or drinkers who are driving.

One step on from the so-called “alcohol-free” products is a clutch of slightly stronger wines which are still only half as strong as the real thing. This includes the Lambrusco range and fruit flavoured wines. Many of these are fizzy, as carbonation helps to “lift out the nose”, as a connoisseur would say. Even so, it is not a niche known for its quality of taste.

Despite all this, the reduced alcohol market has, until recently, been booming. Its soaring sales are part of the increase in wine drinking in general in the UK. According to research company Mintel’s figures, we drink about 1.5 bottles of wine per head in a month – far behind other Europeans, who consume the same amount in a week – but the UK market is taking off.

This is particularly fortuitous for antipodean wine-makers: “The UK market is a huge growth area for Australian wine. It is one of the biggest selling markets. We drink a bigger range of wine in the UK than Europe because we do not have our own wine,” says Paul Sullivan, product manager for Southcorp brand Loxton Group.

Southcorp saw a gap for a wine that has a lower alcohol content but is still “real”. Competitors in this sector tend to be “made wines”, with something added, thereby changing the taste. Southcorp decided to produce a full-strength Chardonnay with most of the alcohol removed.

Southcorp, by using a “spinning cone” distillation technique to gently take out the offending alcohol, has concocted a 4 per cent beverage.

It is about a third as strong as normal wine, but still has enough alcohol in it not to taste of essence of washing-up liquid. Jilly Goulden of the BBC’s Food & Drink programme sampled the product last November and described it as, “fab… a real creamy, peachy Chardonnay”.

The Brand Development Business in Henley-on-Thames was brought in last spring to handle positioning and packaging for the new product. The seven-strong consultancy specialises in generating new product ideas, positioning them and bringing them to the marketplace.

The target consumer was predominantly female, likely to be in her mid-30s or older, in the BC1 bracket, and probably living in London, the Southeast or the Midlands. According to Mintel, this audience chooses low or reduced alcohol drinks as a lunchtime treat during the working week, as a health option, as a diet choice, or because they are driving.

Southcorp developed the new product under its Loxton brand, which already had a low alcohol variety. Based on these facts, The Brand Development Business came up with a series of brand propositions: a positive lifestyle decision; classic Chardonnay but lighter; and the perfect wine for lunchtime.

The lunchtime concept was seen as the one to go for and the name Loxton Lunchtime Light was agreed upon. The name is intended to give the brand dignity, a unique personality and a specific position.

Because of its alcohol count, the drink could not be called wine. “Chardonnay gives them the reassurance,” says The Brand Development Business director David Goudge

To endorse the Chardonnay offer, the pack shows an Australian landscape shot. “The decision was taken that two of the product’s greatest strengths were its heritage and flavour. Consequently, one of the strongest cards we could play was to use familiar design cues from the great Australian Chardonnays,” says a Brand Development Business spokeswoman.

The product is, “aimed at a female bias, though not exclusively”, says Goudge. “We don’t want to push it into a female ghetto.”

Sullivan offers no firm predictions as to how Loxton Lunchtime Light will do. “We expect it to do as well as Loxton Low Alcohol,” he says. Loxton Lunchtime Light is currently being shipped over from Australia, for an Easter launch into major multiples.

The grape vine

The market according to Mintel:

The low/no-alcohol market is estimated at 7.5m in the UK, with consumption at approximately 2m litres per year.

Wine’s share of the low-alcohol market has risen from 8.8 per cent to 12 per cent since 1992.

The market is currently static, but development of the 4 per cent wine market is expected to show good growth.

4.6 per cent of all consumers drink low-alcohol wine. These drinkers are mostly women.

The current brand leader in the alcohol-free wine market is Eisberg with a 70 per cent share.

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