I wrote a blog (I still want to call it a column) on the resurrection of Cycles Gladiator back in April of this year. I said I would occasionally update our progress whether good or bad.
The brand possesses one of the most recognizable icons in the wine world ( a late 19th century French bicycle company logo that has morphed into a very famous poster and consumer branding tool). The brand needed many items fixed when I bought it three years ago. Wine quality, packaging and brand identity had all taken a nosedive. We have corrected those problems over the last three years, but getting distributors, retailers and restaurants excited about the brand after years of neglect is a momentum issue, not necessarily having anything to do with the product.
It became clear this summer the brand needed something additional to build interest in the market. Although we made all the changes I talked about above, the most powerful component of the brand, the Icon, was still not being taken advantage of. As everyone has experienced when shopping in a wine store, many people buy brands based on the look and feel of the label. We haven’t been able to take advantage of this with our current Cycles Gladiator label.
My sales team and I had this discussion during the summer when we typically review the brands’ performances. One of the guys on the sales team had been thinking about Cycles and what we could do to regain momentum the brand had years ago. His idea……put Cycles pinot noir in a can!
Not knowing anything about wine in cans, I was more than slightly skeptical. I have bottled tens of millions of bottles of wine, and am very comfortable with the production, sales and marketing of that product. Stepping into a new segment of the market with an unfamiliar production process seemed very risky.
However, not wanting to shut down an idea based on my own personal prejudices (and like most prejudices, it was based on ignorance), I told each sales team member to call a few of their distributors and see what their reaction was to Cycles in a can. Much to my surprise, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Many of the distributors wanted to place orders on the phone. It is the most positive response I have ever had to a proposed product introduction.
After some discussion of pricing and costing, we decided at that meeting to jump feet first into the can business. Our cumulative can experience was ZERO. We were going to have to learn about the production process and the market on the fly. The one stake I had in the ground (and it is an important one), was that distributors wanted the product. The canned wine market has been growing and distributors wanted to be in it or expand their can portfolios. Consumers like single serve, portability and quality on the go.
Most new projects can take a year to go from idea to product in the market in the wine business. We had wine in cans 60 days from our sales meeting. That takes winemaking talent, production flexibility and laser focus on the task. We “canned” a modest initial run of the product and began shipping around the country two weeks ago. The cans are just starting to show up on retailers’ shelves and even a few restaurants have made purchases.
Our hope is that the can segment of the wine industry will continue to grow and become a meaningful part of the overall wine sales in the country. We hope to sell a lot of Cycles Gladiator cans and have a positive trickle-down effect on the entire brand.
That hope feels a little like when you have your first son and wonder if he will be a Hall of Fame baseball player! “New” creates excitement. Excitement creates momentum. The trick is to catch the momentum at the right time and ride it. No one really knows if wine in cans is going to catch on, but early results are encouraging. The Cycles Gladiator icon stands out like a beacon on this particular package. We are going to find out if it’s meaningful for this branding experiment.
Stay tuned and watch for updates on our continuing journey to resurrect Cycles Gladiator. And, oh yeah, buy a can of Cycles if you see it in your store!