Kiwi wine company’s big play for Japan’s luxury market

A relative newcomer to the New Zealand wine scene is leveraging its Japanese connections to springboard its portfolio of premium wine brands into the lucrative Asian market.

Moana Park Estate is continuing to grow in Japan.

Dionysus Investments, which is owned by Grant Humphrey, Julian Davidson and Ross Burney, has already launched its “ultra premium” Moana Park Estate and Messenger brands into Japan, and its Mutu brand is soon to follow.

Using majority shareholder Humphrey’s Tokyo-based marketing and distribution company, MAD International, the group secured a deal with Costco Japan for its Moana Park Estate brand last year.

It followed this with the debut of the previously dormant Messenger brand in November last year via retailer Liquor Mountain’s portfolio of 170 outlets, 2000 on-premise distribution and 5 million online subscribers, alongside other retailers including Yaoko and Yokohamaya.

Davidson, who joined the business previously known as Taiga Group Limited as chief executive in November 2019, told the Ticker that sales were going “very, very well,” paving the way for Mutu and Moana Park Estate to join Liquor Mountain’s network.

Julian Davidson, CEO

“We have agreed channels and stores and distribution points, now we’re just going through the rollout with that as we speak,” he said.

He added that the company, which owns five vineyards in Hawke’s Bay and Auckland, aimed to become an “Asian-centric, world-recognised producer and marketer of ultra-premium wines”.

“We’re not looking at being the normal wine company that exports Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc or Central Otago Pinot Noir. We’re actually looking at Bordeaux-type blends into Asia, grown in Hawke’s Bay and Stillwater in Auckland,” he said.

Messenger’s Reserve labels retailed at $70 a bottle and the first Messenger Bordeaux blend at $200 per bottle in Japan.

Davidson, who has an extensive background in the food and beverage sector, including stints with Lion, Independent Liquor and as executive chairman of Nasdaq-listed Long Island Iced Tea Corp, added “we’re developing that luxury Asian footprint and it’s in its infancy right now”.

“A key priority for us is the Japanese market, which doesn’t make any of the super premium markets like Shanghai or Beijing any less attractive, but Japan is the first cab off the rank.

“It’s got an ageing population with very, very high disposable income and still a relatively immature imported wine segment. If you couple that with being able to apply resources far beyond probably the typical winemaker to a country like Japan suggests there’s reasonable potential there.”

He said assessments of the wine production capacities will be made for each brand, and Dionysus would likely look for investment “within the year or sooner” to help fund its growth.

“We’ll probably have to expand capacity for each of the brands,” he said.

“Whether we buy or lease more vineyards and/or extend the winery, that’s literally the thing we’re looking at now. We don’t really know what sort of uptake we’ll get from access to 5 million premium subscriber base in Japan, but we’d expect it to be significant.

“We will be [seeking investment] at some stage soon, yes, because of our aspirations, it’s a capital intensive business and we want to have those amazing brands in these amazing markets and it will take some incremental capital as we progress.”

It has also been building up its team to support its expansion efforts poaching two marketing specialists from The Warehouse Group, new commercial finance manager Amanda Long, formerly of PepsiCo Middle East and T&G Global, and chief winemakers John Hancock and Michelle Richardson.

Messenger was founded in New Zealand by Paul and Cathy Syms in 2004. It was withdrawn from the market for seven years before Taiga licensed and revived the brand in mid-2020. Mutu and Moana Park Estate wineries, land and brands were acquired by Taiga in February 2020.

Original article posted and written by Monique Steele from Food Ticker on 1st June 2021. 

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