Small business: Taking chances - Invivo Wines

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Tim Lightbourne, co-founder with winemaker, Rob Cameron, of award winning Invivo Wines, talks about launching a possibly risky low calorie wine range

Rob Cameron and Tim Lightbourne, co-founders of Invivo Wines. Photo / Supplied
Rob Cameron and Tim Lightbourne, co-founders of Invivo Wines. Photo / Supplied

At the time of our launch in 2008, both Rob and I knew we would have to stand out from the crowd from the very start, not only in terms of how we market the brand, but also with product innovation. With over 600 wineries in New Zealand, a competitive industry where being listed by retailers, restaurant and bars is at a premium.

Introducing a low cal wine to a sceptical audience

In 2009, we started investigating the lower calorie drinks market, we noticed at that time, the growth in the beer industry with lower carb options and mid-strength alcohol beers. Rob started working in the vineyard on our Sauvignon Blanc, looking at reducing alcohol levels, which bought down the calories. In 2010, we launched our lower alcohol and fewer calories Sauvignon Blanc "Invivo Belle." We placed a nutritional panel on the back label, a first for New Zealand wine at the time.

Managing the naysayers

We knew it would not appeal to all of our customers, a few questions came up such as why would I want to drink a lower alcohol wine? Lower calories are not for me! What would it taste like?

However we managed the quality issue, by producing a wine that would deliver and be appealing to our consumers. We won medals in wine competitions against full strength wines, ran instore tastings nationwide and in our export countries, talked to customers about the opportunities for Belle, for instance suggesting it as a lunchtime wine, for hot summer days, a lighter option that didn't knock you over. We had also built up a base of loyal consumers in a few years, winning trophies, gold medals and 5 star ratings which helped with our creditability. So there were those willing to try something new from Invivo.

A good response

Immediately we found there was a following and demand for the new wine. We produced initially a smallish amount of around 6000 bottles. This first vintage Sauvignon Blanc sold out in just a couple of months, premium retailer Harvey Nichols in the UK taking a considerable amount. Production has increased significantly every year since this first production run. We have since launched a further wine in this range with a New Zealand first, low calorie rosé.

Don't confuse the consumer

Not wanting to dilute our premium Invivo brand or confuse consumers, we created new packaging for the lower calorie range, strongly communicating lower calories, lighter in alcohol on the label and called the range "Invivo Belle."

New product attracts new customers

We've worked hard on a limited budget creating awareness for a segment of the market I thought would be interested. We also targeted a new audience with Invivo Belle. We've sponsored the New Zealand Fitness Annual Industry Awards for the last three years with support of Fitness New Zealand CEO Richard Beddie. We also held a launch event on the eve of New Zealand Fashion Week. Fashion label Zambesi, who had designed our Invivo wine label agreed to also design the Belle label.

New product creates conversation

With our venture into lower calorie wines, what I particularly liked was that it created "talkability" about Invivo. The wines have been featured in media in Canada, UK, Germany, Japan, China, Australia and Bulgaria. We travelled to the UK and did an interview with The Drinks Business, a leading European publication talking about our low calorie wines. There were many wines out there in the market, but not many lower calorie offers so it also gave us an opportunity on the shelf or winelist where others weren't.

Another upcoming new product

This year over the summer both Rob and I have been working on a further unique addition to the Invivo range to be released in the next few months. We have a winery in Mangawhai Heads, Northland and during the summer drought we started trialling wine spritzers with a combination of Invivo Sauvignon Blanc infused with fruit flavours such as mixed berries or elderflower with sparkling water. They went down a treat with friends and vineyard staff during the day. We are excited to be taking the wine and fruit infused Spritzers commercial and you will see them on the market soon.

Other inspiring international brands

In terms of other brands we look to for inspiration in expanding, Virgin Group is a great case study, Richard Branson has done an excellent job extending the brand to complimentary businesses. Fashion brands are also very successful at brand extensions, Gucci, for instance. Here in New Zealand, our design partners at Zambesi launched their own sunglasses range. Charlie's Drinks venturing from Orange juice into smoothies and water at the time was also interesting.

Tell us your David and Goliath stories where your small business has created a product that takes on a big dominant brand and is making inroads.

- NZ Herald

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