Barefoot has leapfrogged Echo Falls, Blossom Hill and McGuigan to become the second most popular wine brand in the UK off-trade.

The Californian powerhouse has grown value sales by 18.5% in the past year and volumes are also up 17.2% (Nielsen, year to October 2018).

That leaves it second only to Hardys in the chart of the UK’s leading wine brands and its average selling price of £6.06 is considerably higher than the others in the top five.

DRN interviewed chief winemaker Jen Wall and European marketing director Olga Senkina to discover the secrets behind this runaway success story.

Wall has helmed the winemaking team at Barefoot since 1995 and she is a pure ray of Californian sunshine, full of excitement and positivity as she discusses her on-going commitment to the Gallo-owned brand’s “foot fans”.

“For 23 years the winemaking directive has been the same: varietally correct, fruit forward, food friendly wine,” she says. “The fruit is the first thing our foot fans detect. Fruit should be there before oak, sugar or acidity.

“Barefoot wines are known to be flavourful and affordable, and Barefoot is the most highly awarded wine brand in US competitions, so when people are looking for that price to quality ratio they like Barefoot. We put a gold medal on every single bottle coming off the line to let our foot fans know about the quality they are getting. Our philosophy is to make affordable wines for everybody to drink on a regular basis.”

Barefoot is now the world’s bestselling wine brand by value (IWSR), so it is perhaps unsurprising that it has done so well in the UK. But it has absolutely soared up the list of the leading off-trade brands in recent years, so the Gallo team in the UK deserves credit. Rival suppliers are certainly full of praise when they discuss Gallo and the work it has done on the Barefoot range.

“When I started we had four types of wine – Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and White Zinfandel – and now we have many more,” says Wall. “We make sure we have something for everybody. We have definitely had to scale up our volume, but our commitment to quality and style has remained consistent.

“It’s really important that we pick the grapes at the right time, in the evening when they are cool and firm, to ensure varietal integrity and to maintain high standards of quality control for our foot fans.”

When asked for her favourite wine in the range, she sounds like a mother being asked to choose a preferred child from her sizeable brood. But she eventually chooses two. “I love them all and they are all wonderful in different circumstances,” she says. “I absolutely love sparkling wine. Our Barefoot sparkling Pinot Grigio, which is available in the UK, is really neat because there aren’t many Californian Pinot Grigios at all. It’s very rare. There’s a lot of stone fruit and it really goes well with so many foods. It’s really versatile.

“Another favourite, which is only available in the UK and Canada, is Barefoot Pink Pinot Grigio. We released it last year and it has been amazingly popular.”

Barefoot has added more than £26 million in value to the UK off-trade in the past year. The entire wine category has gained just under £50 million in value, so Barefoot is a valuable brand for retailers, according to Nielsen.

“Barefoot has always taken the approach that wine should be more fun and less serious and I think this fun-loving approach to wine really speaks to a wide audience,” says Senkina, who also heads up the brand’s Asian and Middle Eastern marketing efforts. “Barefoot can be enjoyed by anyone from first-time wine drinkers to hard-core aficionados.

“We make a real effort to engage our audience through unique and relevant marketing campaigns such as our House of Sole pop up in Soho and Paws for a Cause, our campaign to find the UK’s cutest pets. Such campaigns have helped us generate over 100 million consumer impressions for the brand in 2018, with over 170,000 UK consumers trying samples of our wines along the way.

“By making continuous efforts to engage with consumers, we’re able to better understand what they want from wine.”

The wine trade faces considerable challenges in the UK. Brexit is the obvious one, but an even greater obstacle could be apathy among young adults, who frequently choose to be teetotal or to drink spirits instead of wine. However, Barefoot is a brand bucking that trend by appealing to millennials with clear branding, eye-catching marketing campaigns and approachable, fruit forward wine that resonates with the 95% of consumers that are not wine experts.

When asked how Barefoot might be able to maintain its meteoric rise, Senkina says: “To sustain growth it is important to ensure you stay up to date with consumer trends and habits, making sure you’re catering to these with your products and approach to marketing

“With consumers spending more and more time on their digital devices, we have evolved our marketing approach to be more tailored to reach our target audiences via their digital devices as we showcase our new products or other fun content such as creative serving suggestions through channels such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as YouTube. One key example of this is our #BareYourSole campaign, which generated over 75million consumer impressions via online platforms, helping us to connect with fans of the brand and potential customers alike.

“There are a number of things that the trade can do such as thinking about making wine more accessible and convenient for our more ethically savvy younger generation, as well as educating the older generation.

“Above all, the trade must make sure it’s engaging with younger generations: this could be through exciting and relevant media partners, digital channels, or unique events.”

A continual pipeline of innovation is key to a brand’s ability to stand out and continue thriving in the competitive and crowded UK wine category. We asked Wall and Senkina about this, and they promised plenty of new releases in the year ahead.

“Barefoot’s unparalleled commitment to innovation has been instrumental to its success, both in terms of new product developments and eye-catching marketing campaigns,” says Senkina. “Innovation keeps customers invested, excited and engaged, not just with individual brands but also in wine as a whole. The market needs to make sure that it speaks to a broad range of consumers in terms they understand and through methods that generate enthusiasm for wine as a whole. 2019 will be an exciting year for Barefoot with several new launches so watch this space.”

Wall is a firm believer in treating young adults with respect, regardless of how they choose to enjoy their wine.

“It’s important to be nimble,” she says. “We are big believers in listening to our foot fans. The young people coming into a legal drinking age are more flexible in their alcoholic beverage choices. Some drink wine one night, beer the next and spirits the next. We need to be flexible in how we innovate. That’s why we launched our Pink Pinot Grigio, in response to listening to the consumer.

“It’s important to encourage people to enjoy the wines the way they want to, not the way society thinks they should. We are happy for them have Champagne in a tumbler, ice cubes in rosé and wine cocktails. The more inclusive and the less judgmental you are, the more people will be encouraged to enter the wine category.

“We want to make sure we are always offering wines that bring people into the category and break the barriers. They are often sweeter wines like Moscato. These bring more people into the category than any other type of wine. They will then eventually migrate.

“We are consistently innovating. You will see at least 19 new releases in 2019. We also have
unique wines for Europe that aren’t sold in the US. Foot fans in that region like a more sessionable, lower alcohol product, so we responded and made wines that are lighter and more vibrant. We are responding overall and by region as well with innovation and we have lots of new releases in the pipeline.”

Fractionals have also helped drive growth for Barefoot as it strives to appeal to convenience shoppers in the UK. “Another key behavioural change we are seeing in consumers is a switch towards shopping for tonight as opposed to doing a larger weekly shop,” says Senkina. “With this in mind, we are focusing on making sure our wines are widely available in convenience and impulse channels. We are also increasing our marketing support to drive awareness of our 187ml range for Barefoot to better cater for those consumers who are buying for tonight and so are preferring single serve formats over a full bottle of wine.”

When asked how it is planning to overcome any challenges arising as a result of the rise in duty and the uncertainty over Brexit and exchange rates, Senkina offers a typically upbeat response.

“It’s really important in times like this to emphasise brand loyalty so that consumers will not be put off by any future price changes,” she says. “As mentioned earlier, with Barefoot we invest in building strong brand loyalty with the consumer and this has helped us sustain strong brand growth in a category that is relatively flat. We plan to continue to invest in exciting and innovative marketing campaigns in the new year to continue to maintain our base of loyal consumers and add to it.”

Gallo’s advice for retailers to help them grow wine sales in the year ahead:

  • Keep an eye out for consumer trends – listening to what your consumer wants and what they are excited by is hugely important. Make sure you are catering to the latest trends in order to ensure that you have the best and most up to date range as possible, as trends in the wine category are constantly evolving. For example, Malbec is currently the fastest growing grape varietal (up 21% by revenue) in the UK’s top 10 grape types and Barefoot’s Malbec is the second largest Malbec in the UK and is growing by 84%, making it a must stock after launching just two years ago.
  • Identify high traffic areas or hot spots in your store that will give new or seasonal products heightened visibility.
  • Ensure that well-known brands that consumers, such as Barefoot, are stocked at eye-line or in easy to find locations, as customers will come into stores looking for wines that they know and trust as opposed to more risky unknown options.