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The Right Choice

Published on Apr 5 2013 12:18 PM in Drinks

The Right Choice

Supplier of Choice’ is both the promise and statement that the Findlater Wine and Spirit Group makes on its 2013 portfolio list, and in a trade where difficulties include excise increases, ever decreasing distributor margins, legislative concerns and, to a large extent, lack of choice, this would indeed appear to be a valiant assertion on the distributor’s part. Michael Foley was recently appointed Marketing Director at the Group, following the recent retirement of Philip Robinson. We talked to Michael about the challenges facing a company that promises choice and supply in a trade where direction and leadership are often obscured in the pursuit of short-term gain.

Foley came to Findlater after eight successful years at Diageo. “I spent the early part of my career at Diageo working with Smirnoff, in both the North and South [of Ireland] and the latter part working with Baileys internationally. I’d like to think I’ve brought strong spirit credentials to Findlater, both from an operational perspective - from my time looking after the Smirnoff brand - and from a strategic perspective, from the rollout of the Baileys brand across a number of international markets. Among other things that I bring would be a ruthless focus on a consumer driven strategy.”

Foley explained that this unwavering focus on the consumer’s needs was something he learned at Diageo, where they “not only say it but really believe in it [...]. They put the consumer at the heart of everything they do. All strategies emanate from the consumer, and along with the power of brand equity, you ultimately resonate with the consumer from your brand communications side and then take the consumer along a journey with your brand over the course of their lifetime.”

Findlater Wine and Spirit Group was formed when DCC-owned Robt Roberts purchased Findlater Grants through its Woodford Bourne subsidiary in 2009. Apart from spirit brands Stolichnaya, Count Rostov, Sea Dog Rum, Tullamore Dew, Grants Whisky, and the incredible Frapin Cognac, its portfolio is largely wine based. Many would argue that its portfolio is one of the finest currently offered in Ireland, boasting names such as Torres, Cono Sur, Grahams, Masi, Antinori, Jadot, Chapoutier, Bollinger, along with big-name new additions such as Penfolds, Wolf Blass and Beringer. Foley is confident that the same brand principles that he has worked with in the past can be applied to wine brands. Indeed, it is refreshing to hear a wine industryprofessional refer to brand equity and consumers without bringing retail price points into the initial equation. “It’s all about understanding how people connect with brands, harnessing that and developing correct relationships with consumers,” he explains.

Delivering Consistency

Foley believes that it is possible to present wine brands to the consumer in such a way that they can stem the tide of short term deals, commoditisation and price driven sales, thereby bringing consistency and stability to the Irish wine market.

“Obviously price is currently one of the main drivers to purchase right now, and the way the industry has behaved over the past number of years is that it has become more commoditised, but that is the role of good brands: to stand up and be counted, to deliver value added, to understand their consumers and to bring consistency to the market. One has to be responsive to the market needs at any point in time. Currently, for example, with the recent excise increase, the average purchase price for a bottle of wine has increased quite significantly. Right now, however, we haven’t yet uncovered whether the consumer is shopping to a price point, and so may trade down due to the increase, or trade up with our brands.Obviously our goal is to make consumers move with brands.” Findlater is a national distributor and Foley is resolute that it can deliver the same level of service and price to every corner of the country, quoting an impressive 99.2% service level in the distributor’s weekly operations.

Wine Knowledge

In addition, Foley seems particularly impressed with the level of wine knowledge that is to be found within the Findlater group. Foley obtained WSET wine qualifications during his years at Edward Dillon and points with approval to the widespread desire in the Findlater team to both learn more about wine in-house and to feed this knowledge back into the trade. This is important, he says, as he believes that on- and off-trade wine purchasing is still a relatively complex decision-making process and perhaps needs to be simplified: “As custodians of category management we need to understand the insights that are driving consumers to purchase outside of price, and also to work with our trade customers to help them to deliver wine in a manner that is outside of price.”

He also believes that while Findlater currently controls 8% of the 8-million-case Irish wine market, it expects to hold 10% by the end of 2013, which will make Findlater Ireland’s largest wine supplier. He is satisfied that the range of wines in the company is second to none, adding: “The company has demonstrated that it is capable of building up brands. For example, Torres in Ireland now enjoys the highest per capita consumption in the world. In addition, Cono Sur is now the fastest growing wine brand in Ireland. We have the ability to deal with mainstream brands but we also over-index in terms of our support for the on trade.”

It is apparent that being the ‘Supplier of Choice’ means a lot to both Findlater’s and to Foley. “If you just become a channel of distribution you lose some of the finer points, such as quality of service, the ability to build brands, and understanding customers,” he explains.

“It might work in the short term for some initial deals but I would argue that, in the medium to long term, to properly sustain an effective distribution strategy that is segmented to the needs of each trade customer, and that understands consumer insights to that particular geographic territory, you need people who have experience to do that. I believe Findlater has that expertise.”

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