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Company Reports - The Company of Wine People  

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The Company of Wine People

South Africa's top wine producer

Rebecca D'Souza

The Company of Wine People is a thriving South African business, which is dedicated to building its brands in a sustainable way through passion, pride, performance and close partnerships
South Africa's top wine producer

The Company of Wine People is one of South Africa’s top wine producers and the country’s fifth largest packaged wine exporter. The company was established in 2006 as the result of a merger between Vinfruco and Stellenbosch Vineyards. Its core brands include Welmoed, Arniston Bay, Kumkani and Versus. “We are very proudly South African and as a result of that we fully support all of the endeavours in the South African wine industry,” asserts Chris O’Shea, Marketing/Executive Director. 

The company’s philosophy is centred on passion, pride, performance and partnerships. “We have taken the four Ps of marketing and given it a slightly different slant in our value system,” explains Hermann Böhmer, Managing Director (MD). “We are passionate about our brand and wine drinkers. We may not be the biggest company but we have pride in everything we do and I think this has really helped to give our people a real sense of purpose in their work” he adds.

An investor of people

The company’s main aim is to build its brands in a sustainable way. “In South Africa sustainability carries a people message as well as an environmental one,” explains O’Shea. The Company of Wine People clearly values and respects its 90-strong team of dedicated staff. With South Africa in the midst of a severe skills shortage, the company heavily invests in its employees, offering them an attractive remuneration package in return for their hard work and continued loyalty to the company. Employees of the group and their families are offered a number of physical provisions in the form of housing grants and medical care. 

According to O’Shea the business has a very flat operational structure, which enables staff to get involved in activities beyond their daily tasks. “This allows our staff to grow within the context of a broader aspiration. We make a conscious effort to make our people aware of how important their individual efforts are in building the brand,” he says.

Corporate Social Responsibility   

The Company of Wine People believes it is important to give back to the community and is committed to a number of corporate social responsibility initiatives. It is associated with Thandi Wines, a transformation initiative that started as a winemaking project to empower the Lebanon community in Elgin. Thandi has become a successful business venture and benefits a number of previously disadvantaged communities.   

In fact a large number of the company’s staff are from disadvantaged backgrounds. O’Shea explains how these employees undergo extensive training courses, which range from basic adult education right through to executive development programmes at some of the top business schools in South Africa. “We are dedicated to helping these individuals develop and grow in a sustainable way through education and training,” says O’Shea. Previously disadvantaged employees are given the opportunity to learn about the industry through on-the-job training. Bursaries are also made available to learners, enabling them to attend the Senior Agricultural School in Stellenbosch.    

The company is also affiliated with the Wines with Heart project, which raises money for charities based in the Cape winelands. This initiative is supported by local wine producers who donate some of their flagship wines which is then repackaged into a mystery box and sold for a good cause. Whenever someone makes a donation, they will receive six bottles of wine and a needy organisation receives the money.   

Carbon footprint

Like many businesses today, The Company of Wine People is conscious of its environmental impact and actively takes steps to reduce its carbon footprint to combat global warming. The company has a waste water effluent plant base on its Welmoed Estate, which produces water certified hygienic enough to be put back into the river. “The waste water treatment plant enhances the area around our facility, which is situated in a rural region of the country. We are very proud to be making a difference,” says Böhmer. “It is important to keep our footprint to the optimum level,” he adds.    

In addition to this, the company has also invested heavily in eco-friendly packaging, including tetrapaks PET and lightweight glass bottles. From July 2009 to November 2010 nearly 17 million lighter weight bottles have been used with 1,626 carbon tonnes saved equating to a reduction of 14.14 percent of glass used.             

O’Shea believes product innovation is key to the company’s future success.  Its pioneering wine pouch packaging has been recognised as the first true innovation in the wine industry by many retailers. “We developed a whole new packaging concept called the wine pouch, which has about 20 percent of the carbon footprint that you find when packaging wine in glass bottles and shipping it abroad,” explains O’Shea. “We are very proud of this innovation. Essentially it is a stand-up format with a tap which you can carry around. It is quite robust,” he adds.  

According to the company if all wine was in pouches the volume of waste saved would fill 206 double decker buses and the energy saved would boil kettles for 37 million cups of tea. In addition to this, one third of the ships on the ocean delivering that wine could be eliminated. It is no surprise then that the idea scooped numerous packaging awards and has been widely adopted by manufacturers and retailers. “It has really taken off in the Nordics where the pouch is being used as a replacement for some of their other packaging formats,” explains O’Shea.

Future plans

The future is bright for The Company of Wine People. In the coming years, the company will continue to invest in its brands. “We are not looking to invest in bricks and mortar but in market facing resource,” asserts Böhmer. “We are aiming to grow considerably over the next five years and in order to do this we need to invest in the market place,” he adds.

The Company of Wine People is looking to grow its global footprint. “We are looking to grow into Asia, Africa and North America in the next few years. We need to go into these new markets with people that have credibility, critical mass and that can help us to promote our wine brands and deliver the South African message,” concludes O’Shea.

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