Critters On Labels Phenomenon

It comes as no news to anyone that the American people love their animals. What did come as a surprise to me is that we also love animals on our wine labels. Yes, a study released earlier this year by ACNielsen confirms that wine labels with animal images are becoming increasingly popular in this country.

I felt compelled to do my own research on this topic so one evening I stopped by my local liquor store to check out the wine selection. Sure enough I was greeted with a veritable zoo of animals on labels. There were Dancing Bulls, Leaping Horses, Black Swans, Little Penguins, Kangaroos, even a hippopotamus courtesy of Fat Bastard Wines (which is French would you believe). This very informal research confirmed that there seems to be a much larger selection of wines with animal labels than ever before.

In the wine industry these animal labels are affectionately known as “critter labels”, and the trend began back in 2001 with the introduction of the Yellow Tail brand of wines into this country from Australia. Pictured on the label is what looks like a kangaroo (but which is in fact supposed to be the yellow-footed rock wallaby). These wines had labels that looked striking, were priced very reasonably and they tasted great – so they became a runaway success. So much so that they spawned an entire new “category” of wine.

The ACNielsen study has some hard data confirming the popularity of this new wine category. In the past three years there have been 438 new Table Wine brands that have been successfully introduced in the American market (those wines that sold more than $20,000 annually). Of these 438 new brands 77 of them featured an animal on their label, around 18 percent. Combined with existing “critter label” wines, sales reached $600 million in 2005 out of a total of just over $4 billion, based on ACNielsen sales data from supermarket point of sale purchases.

“Critter-labeled wines are on the rise, quickly gaining share in the table wine category,” said Danny Brager, vice president of ACNielsen’s Beverage Alcohol team. “The sales generated by new brands featuring a critter outperform other new table wines by more than two to one.” That’s right, taken across the board new critter-labeled wines have proven in the marketplace to be more popular.
“While placing a critter on a label doesn’t guarantee success, it is important that wine makers realize that there is a segment of consumers who don’t want to have to take wine too seriously,” said Brager. “Not only are they willing to have fun with wine, they may just feel ‘good’ about an animal label presentation.”

With hundreds of new wine brands being introduced each year, wine makers realize that they need to stand out from the crowd if they are to make an impression. The easiest and most cost effective way to stand out is with an attention grabbing label on your bottle. The wine industry has also realized that there is an increasingly large segment of consumers who are attracted by fun labels. They want to buy a non-pretentious wine and they don’t want to pay a fortune. These are the people who walk into a liquor store and supermarket and have no idea what they are going to buy – they decide by looking at the labels.

The Yellow Tail wine phenomenon is the perfect example of this. From Casella Wines, a small family-owned winery in New South Wales, Australia, Yellow Tail went from zero to the number one imported wine in the US in just two years. The first year the Casella brothers expected to sell 25,000 cases of wine here, they ended up selling 200,000 cases. That was back in 2001. In 2005 they sold 8 million cases of wine. Yellow Tail Shiraz is now the #1 selling red wines in America (not just imports but ALL red wine). In the crowded and highly competitive US wine market with over 6,500 wine brands, Yellow Tail has become the #1 wine brand, and it took just five years.

OK, I realize that Yellow Tail’s success is not just because of their label. They have a great product that is reasonably priced – the Shiraz is just $6.99 – and they have a very loyal base of repeat customers. But could they have become #1 without their unique label? I don’t think so. One of the biggest barriers they faced was getting people to try the wine in the first place. With what looks like a brightly colored kangaroo on the label on a black background, it is a visually striking label. It was able to break through the clutter at the retail store with this label.

Perhaps the biggest indication of the success of Yellow Tail is the number of copycats it has spawned. Penfolds, Australia’s leading winery, was obviously disappointed in missing out on this opportunity, so they responded with the launch of the Little Penguin brand of wines. There is now a deluge of animal themed wines, so much so that ACNielsen is tracking their sales now. Despite all this new competition Yellow Tail remains the most successful wine brand in terms of total sales.

Although the wine business is somewhat unique there are lessons here that can be applied to any industry. One lesson is that with a high impact label you can make inroads even in a conservative and image conscious industry such as the wine industry. Your label should be working hard for your product. It should be informational, be a sales and marketing piece, carry any necessary regulatory information, and at the same time be eye catching. If you are selling your products at a retail store, then your label needs to perform well in all these areas for your product to compete with other more established brands.

Your label is your sales tool. The success of Yellow Tail wines demonstrates that in any competitive industry a good label can help bring success. Of course, it doesn’t have to feature a critter, but a visually appealing and eye catching label will always help sales.

By Les Kincaid