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Cape Classics Sets 5-Million-Case Goal For South African Category In U.S., With Emphasis On Strong Brands

July 5, 2011

While South African wine importers in the U.S. market have struggled in recent years, New York-based Cape Classics has been gaining momentum with a South African portfolio including Jam Jar, Indaba and Mulderbosch. Speaking to Shanken News Daily, Cape Classics president and coo Rob Bradshaw said the near-term goal for the category in the U.S. is to reach 5 million cases from its current 1.2-million-case level. He firmly believes the best strategy is to lead with vibrant individual brands, rather than marketing under a broad South African umbrella.

Cape Classics and executives from some of its key distributors—including Southern Wine & Spirits, Glazer’s, Young’s Market Co, Winebow, Opici, M.S. Walker, The Country Vintner, Fedway and Wine Trends—hammered out a brand-led approach at a recent summit in New York. “With the exception of Argentina, successful new wine regions in the U.S. have been built with brands,” said Bradshaw. “We think attractive brands must be the head of the beast, so to speak. Their South African identity should be the tail—not the other way around.”

For Cape Classics, that means pushing a stable of South African brands including Indaba, Excelsior, Ken Forrester, Mulderbosch, Rustenberg and Jam Jar. Of these, Indaba and Excelsior—both of which Bradshaw is projecting at around 90,000 cases this year at an $8-$10 price point—are the largest. But he thinks Jam Jar—a semi-sweet Shiraz launched in 2009 at $10-$12 a bottle—may have the greatest potential. “We were one of the first to market in the sweet red category with Jam Jar, and now the market is being flooded with $5 sweet reds, which has essentially made us a super-premium brand,” he says, adding that Jam Jar will be extended with a white variant. (Bradshaw declined to give a case number for Jam Jar, but believes it will eventually be the biggest brand in its portfolio.)

National accounts, both on- and off-premise, are a focal point for Cape Classics, with Darden (Seasons 52), Uno, Costco, Target and Trader Joe’s (where Bradshaw was formerly national wine buyer) among those leading the way for the company. New York and Massachusetts are currently the group’s top markets, with Florida, Texas and California showing growth. 90+ scores from Wine Spectator for several brands in the Cape Wines portfolio—including Ken Forrester, Rustenberg, Mulderbosch and Glenelly (the South Africa venture of former Chateau Pichon-Longueville-Lalande owner May-Eliane de Lencquesaing)—have boosted Cape Classics’ quality credentials. But the company’s goal of capturing a bigger market share by quadrupling the category’s current volume will require a brand with mass appeal. Despite tough competition from both attractively priced imports and a California category awakening to the U.S. market’s penchant for sweet reds, Bradshaw believes Jam Jar will be the South African category’s breakthrough brand.

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