Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
Consumers can be a fickle lot – except when they're hanging on stubbornly to long-held beliefs.
This tendency has presented something of a challenge to Yannick and Greg Wertsch, brothers and owners of Between the Lines Winery, a six-year-old enterprise in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., that produces and sells wines from a retail store in the family barn as well as through a wine club and in restaurants.
One of Between the Lines's retail bestsellers is wine made from vidal grapes, a hybrid of European and North American grapes, and the variety used most often in Ontario to make icewine. But while this wine often sells out in the store, it doesn't do well in restaurants, says Yannick Wertsch, the winemaker at Between the Lines, which was built on the farm where his parents had grown grapes to sell to the region's wineries.
"Selling vidal in restaurants is almost impossible," says Mr. Wertsch, who notes that Between the Lines now sells about 5,500 cases of wine a year, up from 1,000 five years ago. "Most people think of vidal as a sweet, cheap, garbage-y wine, so restaurants don't want to carry it because they know they're not going to sell it."
Mr. Wertsch says he and his brother would like to change the widespread perception of vidal as a low-end wine. At their vineyard, they've worked to improve the grape's quality by reducing yields – a strategy that prevents dilution of soil nutrients.
During tours at the winery, Between the Lines staff will often serve vidal and ask visitors to guess what they're sipping. "We always have people telling us it's chardonnay or riesling," says Mr. Wertsch. "When we tell them it's vidal they're always surprised."
Mr. Wertsch says a few restaurants – notably those that don't have a lot of wine experience and preconceived notions about hybrid grapes – have embraced Between the Lines's vidal. But he and his brother would like to see more of this wine flowing at restaurant tables.
"We had one restaurant in particular that has had a lot of success with our vidal wine as their house white," says Mr. Wertsch. "We educated their staff and talked to the owners about promoting our vidal wines. This is about updating knowledge – a lot of people tried vidal 20 or 30 years ago, and the wine quality has changed so much since then."
The Challenge: How can Between the Lines change the perception of vidal as a cheap wine?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Doug Brown, partner at the liquor marketing firm Blended, Victoria
The way we see it, there are two audiences you have to win over: the restaurant buyer, and the diners. Vidal is a high acid, lighter bodied, lightly aromatic wine that pairs particularly well with salads and seafood. We suggest focusing on restaurants that serve this type of food. Those with a local-produce profile would be the sweet spot.
We recommend exclusive "remaking vidal" food- and wine-pairing evenings, conducted by the chef and the winemaker, to elevate the profile of the wine and the perception of its value. Giving away free tickets via social media would generate buzz.
Other suggestions: Position vidal as refreshingly different from the same old chardonnays and rieslings. Sell it by the glass and make the price point attractive to encourage trials. Use table toppers to tell the story, and provide diners with an invitation to visit the winery with a discount.
The winery should also turn to its 1,555 followers on Facebook to tell them about the wine, let them know which restaurants serve it, ask them to share their reviews on the Facebook page. Get the Between the Lines army engaged!
Axle Davids, chief executive officer, Distility Branding, Toronto
Between the Lines is having a brand positioning crisis. Mention of the vidal variety to savvy wine consumers instantly lights up that part of their brain that says "dessert" or even "cheap." The most powerful tool at the disposal of the brothers here is the wine's name. Until now, Between the Lines has been wise to have the simplest naming convention possible: the estate name plus the type of wine. It is time to break that elegant convention and introduce a name for the wine itself. A name that says "not a dessert wine" and "not cheap."
Consider how, in 1987, Japanese brewer Asahi introduced its Asahi Super Dry rice lager. The name, packaging and formulation redefined and transformed the Japanese beer market. It created a new space in the customer's mind, one that Asahi dominated. With the right brand focus and enough resources, Between the Lines could establish a new niche of vidal wine and profit widely from that creation.
Apart from introducing a name for this specific wine, Between the Lines should also be targeting restaurants that organize their wine menu by wine character or flavour profile, rather than by region or varietal. The combination of the new name and such a menu type could overcome resistance and foster the experimentation needed for this wine to break through with the public.
Dyson Forbes, marketing director at Forbes Wild Foods Inc., Toronto
I have always thought that the best marketing starts with a story. Your story should be about why this wine came to be, and should be easy for a server to remember so they may relay your enthusiasm to their customers.
If your wine pairs perfectly with one dish in particular, sell the idea of that dish with the wine. Many restaurants guess at what to pair with a dish, so having suggestions based on their menu can go a long way in getting people to live a little outside their comfort zone. Have spec sheets available at all times, and easy to find online, with information about the varietal, the soil makeup, the process and flavour notes.
Restaurants often run on very thin budgets, and anything they can do to cut or reduce operating costs can be a big sell. Discounts and promotional runs can help get people interested. Direct-to-restaurant sales also open up lots of opportunities such as reducing delivery costs by partnering with local small producers of specialty items that are difficult or pricey for chefs to access.
Promotional items for staff and free product training for servers can be a great way of endearing people to your brand and allow you to rewrite some of what and how people feel about specific wines. Offer restaurants field trips to your winery to develop customer loyalty and do something fun for their staff that builds morale.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
It's all about pairings
Target restaurants that specialize in seafood and salad – with a focus on local ingredients – which pair well with vidal.
Change the winery's naming convention to give its vidal a moniker that conveys it's not a cheap dessert wine.
Promote to chefs and servers
Offer restaurants field trips to the winery, along with promotional items for their staff.
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Interviews have been edited and condensed.