Attending this year’s Backsberg Postgraduate Vino Varsity Challenge between the MBA students from UCT and Stellenbosch could have one thinking of the 1980s pop music band China Crisis. Both teams were tasked with solving the South African wine industry’s challenge of getting shelf-space, throat-approval and face-time in premium wine markets. And as far as both the UCT Graduate School of Business and the University of Stellenbosch Business School are concerned, China is the place to go.
The reason for this is the massive market and growing middle to upper classes who have an insatiable appetite for aspirational and lifestyle products, of which wine is definitely one. And here lies the opportunity for Wine South Africa.
Stellenbosch grabbed the initial attention of the judges by combining the Chinese people’s love of technology with the desire to see and experience exotic places. The ideal would therefore be to take the South African winelands to China. Using four-dimensional technology and a touch of augmented reality, various environments would be created in Chinese hubs where visitors would be able to see, smell and feel the Cape Winelands. Without taking the long-haul flight to South Africa filled with hordes of gesticulating compatriots.
Using the imagination, this appeared like a great idea and one could deploy the mind’s eye to imagine a few friends walking into a Beijing venue that has become a little piece of the Cape. Guinea-fowl chortling while you sip South African Chardonnay and immerse yourself in computer-generated images exactly reflecting the majestic views of the winelands.
Using social media and the venues, South African wine would be communicated by Chinese lifestyle influencers such as Leaf Greener, Nik Wang and Xie Na. Between them these influencers have millions of followers who act on any recommendation they tend to document.
UCT followed a more conventional approach, but with a very professional and business-like presentation. South African categories of which the country has ownership, such as Cap Classique and Pinotage priced between $10 and $12, should gun for on-trade, hotel and nightlife operators, high-end department stores and the online customer-base. The latter is something South Africa does not seem to think a great deal about, but Chinese online transactions amount to hundreds of millions of dollars daily.
In promoting South Africa, the industry must exploit the patriotic link between China and South Africa entrenched by the BRICS agreement. Once again, online influencers were identified as playing a massive role. And, get this, South African wine must be sold in a 888ml bottle as the number eight is a number of luck in Chinese circles.
It is, however, difficult to get a strategy of this nature going without identifying the constraints present in the South African industry, and here UCT nailed it. South Africa suffers from a low-awareness as a premium wine location. Global marketing strategy is fragmented and the lack of collaboration between wine farms is evident. Perhaps most importantly, a successful international marketing strategy has to detach itself from the flood of poor-quality wine finding its way onto the export market.
Wine marketing supremo Carina Gous from Distell, who was one of the judges, was impressed by the level of the debates and the diverse opinions. But, both UCT and Stellenbosch shared one vital point in all this: Where is the budget going to come from to implement this pretty blue sky thinking?
Both debates were incisive, stimulating and full of original insights. Perhaps Simon Back should start selling tickets for this event to wine marketers as when it comes to wine, there is a whole new world of thinking out there – and ignore them at your peril.