By Barbara Barrielle
To say Cline Cellars Marketing Director Christine Lilienthal is thrilled about the new label design and packaging for the winery’s core Lodi Zinfandel would be an understatement. Her collaboration with Affinity Creative Group in repackaging this nationally distributed wine has meant a complete overhaul of the perception of this wine in the marketplace – and the sales numbers show it.
Lilienthal was faced with declining Zinfandel numbers across the board but, in the Lodi Zinfandel case, the decline was in the double digits and the competition from newcomers like OZV and Carnivor was fierce. “Even though the Zinfandel category is declining at a rate of 3-4% and the variety makes up less than one percent of total table wines nationally, Cline’s Lodi Zin was experiencing a 14% decline and being delisted in many of our core retail stores.”
Having worked with Ed Rice and other creatives at Affinity Creative Group when she headed marketing at other wineries, it was a natural for Lilienthal to include the group in the bid process for the Lodi Zin redesign. The “Old Vines” Lodi Zin has an average 65-70,000 case production and falls in the $10.99 price category. Cline’s Ancient Vines Zinfandel, at about 80,000 cases, was also being challenged in the marketplace, but the immediate need was the starter Zinfandel category.
As head of strategy at Affinity Creative Group, Ed Rice immediately grasped the challenge Cline was facing when awarded the account in late 2016. The project was fast-tracked to make a spring 2017 bottling date. As Lilienthal points out, those 3-4 months were “absolute chaos, but Ed and his team were calm.” Affinity front-loaded the first round of design possibilities and came to Cline with sixteen options at the first pass. As Lilienthal points out, “these were not just variations on a concept, but sixteen very different options which we then narrowed to our ‘heroes.’ At the same time, we were working with winemaking on the Lodi Zin flavor profile to make sure that we were presenting the best wine possible in this category to the consumer.”
As Rice says, “Zinfandel is not a large category, but Cline Zin has a passionate customer. The current label was a bit dusty and looking long in the tooth, and the wine was being eclipsed by newer, hotter brands.” The need was urgent, and Rice worked closely with the Cline team in narrowing down the labeling options as well as addressing a new closure look and carton design. The loyal Cline wine club as well as employees became the marketing focus groups because, frankly, the winery didn’t have a focus group in the budget. The Affinity team closed in on a two-piece, die cut black label with an emphasis on the gnarly, head-pruned old vines that characterize the Zinfandel mystique as well as the family-owned and operated Cline operation.
For Lilienthal and her team at Cline, the opportunity to see a 3-D rendering of the new two-piece label design was invaluable. They understood the texture, weight and feel, and how the bottle would look on the shelf and feel to the consumer. A slightly broader shoulder gave the new packaging girth and a richer weight. The 3-D example was also a key guideline for the printer who understood the desired outcome and, as Lilienthal says, the whole print check took fifteen minutes.
The quick turnaround had the new packaging in the marketplace by summer 2017 and, although old designs may still be found in some markets, the new Cline Lodi Zinfandel has basically transformed how the brand is perceived by both consumers and retail outlets. The sales numbers are staggering to say the least.
“I have managed a lot of packaging changes in my career but have never seen anything like the change in our Lodi Zinfandel,” says Lilienthal. “In 52 weeks, July 2017-July 2018, the brand had gone from a decline of 14%to a growth of over 11%, meaning we have had an approximate 25% increase in sales in that period.” And she points out that the brand was growing with fewer points of distribution and without lowering the suggested retail price. Furthermore, Trader Joe’s, who had delisted the brand, has reintroduced it in the Northwest with much success and will now roll it out in other regions.
“Affinity worked with us and challenged us, but in a helpful way. In determining what direction we should go, Ed’s team explored everything we asked for, and then showed us something better.” Soon after the Lodi Zinfandel launch, Affinity was awarded a silver medal at the Wine & Vines Packaging Conference for the packaging redesign of Cline’s Old Vine Zinfandel.
Although Zinfandel is still a declining variety category (Californians make up the majority of Zin drinkers), Cline Cellars feels that they have busted the trends and the wines continue to make up a proud part of the winery’s almost 400,000 total case portfolio.
Both Lilienthal and Rice will be speaking at the North Coast Wine Industry Expo Conference in the “Keys to Successfully Refreshing Your Brand” session, which is part of the Sales & Marketing Track Presented by Emetry in Santa Rosa, December 6, 2018. Visit www.wineindustryexpo.com/conference to learn more and register.