View from the C-Suite: Andrew Peller’s new consumer-centric strategy

EVP of marketing Shawn MacLeod discusses driving growth with a 70-brand portfolio, starting with Peller Estates.

Shawn MacLeod

Named EVP of marketing at Andrew Peller Limited a year ago next month, Shawn MacLeod has been tasked with building a team that can transform it into the leading Canadian wine company.

Having spent the better part of his career in senior roles at SC Johnson and Mars Food Canada (where he was most recently general manager for Canada), he now heads up marketing, consumer insights and innovation for a company with more than 70 brands in its portfolio.

While the Canadian wine industry continues a several-year growth run, reaching an estimated market value of $10.85 billion this year, according to Statista, the space remains fiercely competitive. In a recent interview with strategy, MacLeod described how the company’s strategy is already starting to play out in the form of a brand refresh and campaign for its biggest label, Peller Estates.

How have you structured your marketing team to set the company up for success?

This is a new industry for me, so I took a bit of time to listen and learn, and fairly quickly got into building a strong marketing team, building our efforts from a brand management and portfolio strategy perspective and prioritizing the brands that we want to invest in. And finally, bringing some capability in the area of innovation [to reflect our] aggressive growth ambitions. Our goal is to be the number one Canadian wine company and craft beverage alcohol company. Innovation will help us in the area of our traditional wine business but will also help us get into adjacent categories where we think we can make a difference.

I had a strong marketing team that had a ton of industry knowledge in wine and alcohol beverages. But I wanted to bring in some diversity of thinking, so within the last year, I’ve brought in three marketing directors: Traci Wildish, who has 20 years of CPG experience, as director of customer marketing; Katie Elder, who comes from 12 years at P&G, as marketing director for our VQA wines; and Meghan Savage, who comes from PepsiCo, as director of our more mainstream brands. I’ve also brought in some folks from the consulting business, senior brand manager-level [people] as well as others from the beverage alcohol business. In all, we’ve added five people to our team to help build those capabilities.

What role does the Peller Estates brand play in your portfolio and why have you chosen to relaunch it with a new campaign?

Peller-commercialThe Peller brand is the largest in our portfolio. Right now, it’s our only $100 million brand. We saw an opportunity, after many years of being really – I’ll call it trade- or customer-centric – to become more consumer-centric on all of our brands, starting with our crown jewel.

The journey has been going on for the better part of the last year, where we looked at all elements of the marketing mix. We made some tweaks to the product. We also upgraded our packaging. We’ve also been very carefully managing our price and promotional mix, making sure that we’re offering consumers the right value at the right time. Finally, we worked very closely with Mosaic [as well as PHD on media and The Colony Project on PR] to get some meaningful insights to be able to develop a campaign to increase awareness and conversion and ultimately build brand equity for the Peller brand.

Often, wine can be a little bit intimidating, a little bit pretentious. Peller as a brand stands for a whole lot more than that. We want to be very approachable, very accessible. If you look at our campaign, there are two important elements: the lead spot opens in the vineyards, where we talk about our wine credentials, and moves quickly into a real-life story that could be part of any family’s storytelling history. We’re trying to create an emotional connection that’s very authentic, very approachable to wine consumers.

How has the wine industry evolved and what segments are you focusing on to drive growth?

PellerWe have over 70 brands in our portfolio, including brands like Wayne Gretzky Estates and Trius, and others like Black Hills Estate and Tinhorn Creek that get to the most affluent and quality-discerning wine consumers, all the way through to brands like XOXO, which are targeted very sharply against millennial women.

We’ve spent time [revisiting] a handful of them over the past year. Wayne Gretzky will be our next $100 million brand. We’ll be making some big moves with that brand. [It started out] in the wine business and got into the whiskey business, and we’re knocking on the doorstep of a new category entry. With Gretzky you get immediate consumer recognition and you get a high degree of purchase interest from anything we put his name on, because he stands for innovation, quality. He stands for a unique twist on the ordinary.

The wine market has been growing steadily for years, but local brands continue to face competition from low-cost imports. How willing are Canadian consumers to buy local wines?

VQA [Vintners Quality Alliance] wines [which are regulated to ensure wine appellation and labeling standards] are growing faster than imports and faster than the wine category overall. So Canadians are absolutely growing in their acceptance of Canadian wines.

Most countries have the bulk of their wine purchased domestically, Canada’s one of the few countries where 70-plus percent of the wine is actually import wine. But through ever-improving brands and quality more consumers are trying VQA wines regularly and adopting them as their go-to. Millennials are adopting VQA wines at a faster rate [than other cohorts]. If millennials are going to spend money on wine they want to make sure they get a good experience, they want to make sure they get quality, so we’ve been having great success with millennials as well.

This interview is part of a series for Strategy C-Suite, a weekly briefing on how Canada’s brand leaders are responding to market challenges and acting on new opportunities. Sign-up here to receive the latest stories.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.