Highlighting Canada’s Best

2016 Control State Best Practices Winner: Best Retail Innovation

Manitoba Liquor and Lottery Corporation

Canada isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when people think of fine wine. This is especially true in the Province of Manitoba, which has a climate that’s not very conducive to winemaking. However, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries saw an opportunity to increase sales of Canada’s Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines, which are authentic, regional wines produced in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia.

VQA wines are distinctive because, unlike many Canadian wines that incorporate outside raw materials and juices, these products are all 100% honed in Canada, ensuring locality and also enhancing the overall quality of the wine.

“Consumers in Manitoba are very interested in supporting local products,” says Ben Rusch, Manager of Product Education with Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries. “We’ve seen a big interest in local craft beer, and it made sense to try and raise awareness of the Canadian wine category.”

When brainstorming ideas for a campaign, the staff’s attention turned to their (now former) CEO, John Stinson, who has a passion for wine and food pairings. Together, Stinson and the team came up with the idea of “Bald Guy’s Best Bets.” The program features eye-catching store displays of a large caricature of Stinson, along with two selections of Canada VQA wines that rotate every two weeks. Additionally, the displays feature detailed tasting notes and suggested food pairings, all written by Stinson himself. Supplementing the in-store marketing materials are a website presence and the @BaldGuyCEO Twitter account, which Stinson also ran.

The Bald Guy’s Best Bets campaign initially launched in April 2016 at 30 of 54 Manitoba Liquor Marts (the other, smaller stores aren’t large enough to accommodate the oversized displays). In addition to providing a whimsical and engaging opportunity for customers to learn more about VQA wines, the campaign has generated the intended sales results. Rusch reports that category sales increased by 13% in the last fiscal year over the previous year. The 10 wines that have been featured as Best Bets to date saw a 73% growth in sales over the previous year.

The Best Bets campaign is also credited with improving overall sales of all Canadian VQA wines carried in Manitoba Liquor Marts. One wine that ranked 80th in sales for the year generated 32% of its total annual revenue during the month it was featured as a Best Bet. Also, the featured VQA wines appear to have made a lasting impression with consumers: the wines that were featured in April were still selling at 60-81% over their pre-April annual monthly averages in May and June.

The only challenge of the program may be having enough wine varietals to swap out every two weeks. Rusch says the campaign may eventually evolve to include local whiskeys and beers as well.

“People enjoy the fact that we are supporting local wines, and customers are also pleasantly surprised at the high quality of Canadian wines,” he says. “I think we can continue to use this campaign model with confidence knowing that the featured products will continue seeing substantial growth.” •

Melissa Niksic is a freelance writer and marketing communications strategist from Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in Chicago’s Daily Herald newspaper, Time Out Chicago, Suburban Life newspapers, and various magazines. She is also the author of several children’s books. Follow her @MelissaNiksic.

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