Nicholas Crampton, Owner, Fourth Wave.
Wine branding is experiencing a seismic shift – now it’s all about ‘attributes’
Regions, heritage and traditions are taking a backseat as vintners address today’s key consumer concerns, says Nicholas Crampton, co-owner of Fourth Wave Wine Partners.
“Historically, people have bought wine based on what winemakers have told them to do: ‘Which vintage to drink when; what to pair with a particular dish’,” says Nicholas Crampton. “Now the industry is waking up to the fact that consumers are setting the agenda and it needs to keep up.”
Whereas in the past some wine producers were prone to esoteric, even ostentatious language and marketing, extolling the virtues of their regions, heritage and traditions, today we are witnessing the emergence of a less top-down, more consumer-centric approach.
Attributes such as organic, preservative-free, vegan, low alcohol and sustainable are becoming increasingly important, and winemakers are having to respond and innovate to meet those demands.
“We’re finding that people are less and less interested in medals and peer-to-peer recognition and more concerned about carbon-footprint initiatives, the use of recyclable materials and wine production’s impact on the climate,” says Crampton. “By launching brands that connect both ethics and business, and ensuring that the entire supply chain, from growers to retailers, is on board, we’re able to address consumer needs and run a healthy, profitable enterprise.”
It’s a successful formula. Fourth Wave, which is based in Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia, has built an impressive portfolio of wines over the past 12 years and works closely with like-minded family-owned companies in Australia, New Zealand, France, Italy, Spain and Argentina. In that time, sales have soared from 3,000 cases to 650,000, and the brands are a popular feature on leading international retail shelves.
A key factor in that success is Fourth Wave’s appreciation of the fact that it needs to connect with younger audiences. “The way we run our business naturally responds to the prevailing concerns of upcoming consumer groups,” says Crampton. “We’re an agricultural-based industry, so we’re acutely aware of the impact that climate change is having on the environment. We are pushing the agenda on water management, green energy and mixed farming methods. We don’t have a ‘right’ to produce wine regardless of the cost to the environment, we have to exist in tandem with the planet’s needs.
“What we have done is use those symbiotic initiatives to our advantage from a brand and marketing point of view. It makes sense for the planet, for consumers, for Fourth Wave and the wider drinks sector.”
A long-standing relationship with Denomination has helped Fourth Wave turn its vision into reality. Imaginative, attention-grabbing brands, including Cow Punk and Tread Softly, celebrate modern environmental initiatives while never losing sight of the fact that people still want to enjoy a delicious drink and to celebrate the experience.
“We partner with Denomination because it has a similar point of view to us. The agency has been going for 20 years and has a comprehensive understanding of the latest technologies and advances happening across all areas of the industry.
“Its new Futureproof model, which is all about helping people in the sector meet their ESG [environmental, social, governance] commitments, means that no one is better placed to advise us,” says Crampton. “For example, we’re currently working on a 100% recycled bottle with Denomination, which is a big leap from the stock we’re using now, which is made with 35%-55% reprocessed materials.”
Any additional costs to the consumer are minimal, insists Crampton – but have a significant impact. That revenue enables Fourth Wave to incentivise partners in the supply chain by paying them more so that they can implement ethical practices, such as installing solar panels on vineyards.
Strong brand identity and packaging design have essential roles to play in supporting Fourth Wave’s drive.
“Denomination creates work that resonates strongly across all age groups and nationalities,” says Crampton. “Take Tread Softly, which is a brand that could sell just about anything. It was developed as a ‘new generation of wine for a new generation of drinker’, and it exceeded budget forecasts by 515% in the first year. In fact, we’re struggling to maintain supply. We felt there was room for that ethos to be carried over into spirits and so now we have Tread Softly gin, too.”
The brand identity is impactful on shelf but also shows restraint. It’s an aesthetic that perfectly complements the brand premise and name. On the front label, which is fashioned from natural paper stock, there’s a tiny illustration of a ladybird, encouraging consumers to lean in and look. The back label features generous illustrations of flora and fauna, amplifying the natural message and reflecting the brand’s awareness of its environmental footprint. The labelling also celebrates Fourth Wave’s impressive tree-planting programme – one sapling is planted for every half case sold, and it’s nearly at 1,000,000 a year.
On a busy, crazy shelf, it takes bravery and a deep understanding of the market to keep that sense of ‘quiet strength’, and to know how far you can go with bending the rules.
This is a critical time for Australian wine with respect to the positioning of sustainability as part of its wine story. Investing in eco measures – and strong brand identities to support them – has a significant role to play in altering market perceptions and motivating uptake among people within the sector as well as consumers.
The fact that Fourth Wave’s sustainability attributes have risen up the agenda and now trump region and heritage was driven home in a surprising way to Crampton at a recent meeting with US suppliers. “They told us that ‘organic’ messaging should take precedence over everything else – and that we should even consider leaving Australia off the label altogether!”