Upscale Brand Doubled Sales in Last Year Without Ads

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CHICAGO ( -- Constellation Brands’ “upscale” boxed wine brand, Black Box, is boosting its marketing budget after it doubled sales last year -- without any measured media support.

“We’re starting to put more money behind it,” said Black Box associate brand manager Mandy Roth, noting that the push will start with sampling stations at wine events and boat shows in major markets, and may also include some radio spots. The brand is handled in-house.

Boxed wine gets classy
Not long ago, the boat-show crowd would have snickered at wine stored in cardboard--for decades a staple of college apartment parties, not regattas. But recent growth of relatively pricy three-liter boxes such as Delicato California Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) and Hardy’s Stamp of South Eastern Austrailia Shiraz ($16) suggests that stigma is lifting.

The main selling point of boxed wine is price and durability. One three-liter box contains the same amount of wine as four standard bottles, and the box’s airtight liner keeps the wine drinkable for up to four weeks, whereas bottled wine generally needs to be consumed within a day or two of opening. The downside is that boxed wines don’t improve or add complexity with age as some bottled wines do.

According to AC Nielsen, sales of boxed wine grew by nearly 12% in the 52 weeks ended Feb. 11 to about $386 million, or 5.7% of the $6.8 billion U.S. table wine market.

Black Box, which retails for more than $20, has grown faster than its category, expanding shipments by 100% during 2005, according to estimates compiled by the wine and spirits trade journal Impact. At 430,000 nine-liter cases shipped, Black Box’s sales are approaching the level of grocery store staples such as Kendall-Jackson Wine Estates’ La Crema (480,000) and E&J Gallo Winery’s Mirassou (500,000).

Packaging creates upscale image
Ms. Roth credits packaging for helping the wine break the $20 price barrier. “It’s got that sleek little black box that looks just like a wine label,” she said. “It looks like an upscale product.”

Favorable reviews haven’t hurt, either. Black Box’s chardonnay was named a “best buy” by Wine Enthusiast, and a handful of newspaper wine writers have cited the brand as a symbol of improving quality of boxed wines.

Retailers said the impact of that attention is apparent in their stores. “It’s selling like crazy here,” says Fred Rosen, who owns Chicago’s Sam’s Wine & Spirits chain of warehouse-sized beverage stores. “It’s the best-selling box we’ve got.”

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