Southbrook Farms and Winery proves its worth abroad

Everyone's heard the clichés before. 'We're living today in a world without borders.' 'There is no such thing as a Canadian company anymore.' 'The whole world is our marketplace now.' But what, exactly, does all of this mean in terms of...

Everyone’s heard the clichés before.

‘We’re living today in a world without borders.’ ‘There is no such thing as a Canadian company anymore.’ ‘The whole world is our marketplace now.’

But what, exactly, does all of this mean in terms of concrete, day-to-day reality? What do Canadian firms go through in the effort to market their products and services internationally? How do they build brands on a global basis? What are the challenges – and the rewards?

For this special report, Strategy’s writers profile the global marketing activities of several noteworthy Canadian companies.

Bill Redelmeier wanted to sell his wine to Canadians. So naturally, he launched it in the U.K.

Canadians need to see a homegrown product receive validation abroad before they’ll give it serious consideration, says Redelmeier, co-owner and export director of Maple, Ont.-based Southbrook Farms and Winery. So the best way to get Canadians to drink Canadian wine is to export it – particularly to a wine-savvy market like Great Britain.

‘One of the [most convincing ways to prove] that Canadian wine is good is to show an English magazine to the Canadian public and say, ‘They love us in England.’ By selling Canadian wines in Britain, we get the halo effect.’

Founded in 1992, the Southbrook winery today is Ontario’s leading exporter of wines to Britain, selling approximately one-third of its dessert fruit wines to U.K. consumers. What’s more, its products – which include raspberry, golden raspberry, blackcurrant and blueberry wines – have claimed a number of international awards. And in 1996, Southbrook’s raspberry wine became the first Ontario wine ever to be carried by the prestigious English department store, Harrods.

Not bad for a bunch of folks who more or less fell into the wine-making business. Initially a dairy farm with a sideline in fruit and produce, Southbrook decided to branch into fruit wines when the unseasonably damp summer of 1992 left them with an oversupply of raspberries.

While Britain remains Southbrook’s primary international market, Redelmeier says it’s now mature enough for the winery to begin focusing on other territories. In addition to the U.K., Southbrook exports to the U.S., Bermuda and Taiwan, and has recently begun expansion into other Far East markets.

Southbrook will establish its brand in these new markets the same way it did in Britain – by taking part in key trade and consumer shows (Redelmeier already has three trips to Asia booked between now and June), and by launching aggressive public relations efforts. While the company maintains a Web site (, it has traditionally done very little advertising, aside from the occasional piece in food and wine magazines. As a marketing vehicle, Redelmeier says, sampling at retail stores and shows is far more effective for Southbrook’s purposes.

‘It’s key to establish that first trial,’ he says. ‘We find advertising [brings the brand] to the front of mind, but it doesn’t establish trial.’

Southbrook does not operate offices outside of Canada, preferring instead to sign on local ‘agents’ to handle sales in each of the markets to which it exports.

The current push into the Far East promises to be an interesting, if challenging one. Redelmeier expects Southbrook’s products to do well in Japan, where fruit wines have been consumed for hundreds of years. He is less certain, however, about the Chinese market, which has had much less exposure to the product category. There is also the concern that, in markets such as Mainland China, Singapore and Indonesia, counterfeit Canadian products will begin to appear and steal share – a problem that Redelmeier says has plagued Canadian exporters of ice wines in the past.

New markets also bring striking differences in product preference. In Canada, for example, Southbrook’s blackcurrant wine accounts for just 15% of sales, but in the U.K. its share is closer to 40%. Redelmeier, for one, is betting that the blueberry wine will do well in Japan, since Japanese folklore holds that blueberries improve the eyesight.

Also in this report:

- Tim Hortons issues wakeup call: Builds underdeveloped breakfast category p.25

- Faces adapts to local market: Cosmetics retailer leverages awareness of cultural differences p.25

- Honeydew pegs future on U.S. sales p.26

- Buckley’s takes bad taste message abroad: Cough syrup marketer making steady inroads in U.S. and overseas p.27

- Great Canadian Bagel makes slow but sure gains in Moscow p.27

- Seagull Pewter sells at shows: Family-run giftware operation does business in over 20 territories p.28

- Clearly Canadian launches in U.S. first p.28

From Karen Howe’s dining table: Creativity, COVID and Cannes

ICYMI, The Township's founder gathers the best of the best campaigns and trends so far.

Cannes Base Camp

By Karen Howe

I’m attending Cannes from the glory of my dining room table. There’s not a palm tree in sight, yet inspiration and intel are present in abundance.

Cannes Lions is a global cultural pulse check. The social course correction in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and BLM has delivered far greater diversity in the judging panels as well as the work. And we are all better for it.

I’m proud to say that creativity defeated COVID, which speaks to its power. Great work and big ideas flourished, despite unimaginable odds.

The work from the past two years spans a vast emotional range. From the profundity of Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” to the hyper exuberance of Burberry’s “Festive,” they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but each answered a need in us.

Take note, the ascendency of gaming cannot be understated. Smart brands have embraced the channel. It makes sense, because gamers participate to meet others around the world, not just to play. And they represent a huge and powerful community. That’s why QSR Wendy’s gamified their iconic gal in RPG’s Feast of Legends.

Burger King sponsored the unknown Stevenage Football Club, transforming the team into online heroes and vaulting BK into the fray at the same time. Once again, the brand embedded itself in culture.

The birth of gaming tourism arrived when Xbox snuggled up to travel guides and created a brilliant baby: a travel guide for gaming worlds. It, too, embedded itself in culture.

From the standpoint of social good, Reporter Without Borders showed how it worked with Mindcraft for its “Uncensored Library” to bypass press censorship, with Minecraft providing a loophole to a space where young people could be educated. It provided youth with a powerful tool to fight oppression: truth.

COVID changed us in unexpected ways. We learned how to pay attention again and there was a notable lack of 30-second commercials. Instead, longer format content thrived. Apple’s WFH was seven minutes long. Entertainment reigned king, so we find ourselves returning to our advertising roots.

Seeing competitive brands form partnerships was one of this year’s other great surprises. The brilliantly simple “Beer Cap Project” by Aguila to reduce binge-drinking saw the brand reach out to competitive beers to join in. Aguila put incentivizing (keyword: free) reminders to drink water, eat food and get home safely on its bottle caps from all sorts of fast food chains, ride-share co’s and H2O brands.

On a personal level, I’m so proud of Canada again this year. Given that it was two years of work from all over the world being judged, even making the Cannes shortlist was an accomplishment. Canada is herding in the Lions in tremendous numbers – and it’s not even over. Fingers are crossed.

KAREN-HOWE-PIC-higher-rez-300x263Karen Howe is a Canadian Cannes Advisory Board Member and founder of The Township Group