Wine-from legend to country brand
In the centennial year, there is a lot of talk about getting closer to Moldova. When it comes to the country’s brand related to wine, the Moldovans should be appreciated and closely watched. The first airport of wine was already inaugurated in Chisinau in the summer of 2017. How could Romania position itself in the world on the international map of wine brands? What would be our strength? How can we differentiate and promote our wine as a country brand?
What associations do foreigners make when you say Romania? The “Dracula / Transylvania / Ceausescu / Hagi / Nadia” era begins to fade. The only way to survive in this globally competitive markets is creating a credible brand, connected to contemporary realities. The growing importance and economic power of the Y Generation only add to this.
Creating a country brand may seem a tricky move, especially if there are already traditional competitors with an established tradition like France and Italy. However, a collective reputation, once built and sustained, can help the founding members but also aspiring members who follow the same quality standards.
Let’s take Japan’s example as a leader in premium technology products. Before the Second World War, the idea of “Made in Japan” would have ranked any product at a lower quality level, which was completely changed after the rigorous control processes implemented by Deming. The example demonstrates not only how to create a country brand, but how to change perception through strategy.
Moldova – The creative power of constraint
Starting with similar post-communist prerequisites, going through a turbulent transition period, Moldova began to rebuild of the wine industry in 2000-2005 through important investments. The target was opening up to new markets, but without the ample opportunities offered by the EU accession, as in the case of Romania. A shady attempt at European economic penetration culminated with the Russian embargo in 2013, a measure similar to the one from 2006, which was of lesser magnitude.
2013 was a critical moment when those involved in the wine industry in Moldova understood that they had only one chance of prosperity. This was the building of a healthy, coherent, country brand, anchored in history, but with values corresponding to the modern market requirements, probably following the Austrian wine model. Egos were put on hold, and viable solutions were sought to save the viticulture sector, the country’s primary source of wealth.
From the legend of the stork to Wine of Moldova
The myth of the white stork tells how when the fortress Gorodesti was besieged by the Turks, Moldovans resisted heroically. They defeated the invaders with the help of white storks. These brought grapes for the brave men who fought, giving them strength.
This wine-related story of Moldova has been transposed into a modern graphic design in the logo of the Wine of Moldova concept, launched during the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry and promoted to ProWein Dusseldorf 2014.
The economic objectives stated by the Moldovan officials included:
- By 2020, wine exports should increase to 200 million liters (increase in bottled wine exports by 50 million liters);
- increase the average export price by 15%;
- to double the consumption of bottled wine on the domestic market.
The country brand thus created offers the products a unified umbrella for promotion on foreign markets (Europe, USA, China). The only requirement is to meet some pre-set quality standards in order not to damage the image of the brand.
In 2018, Moldova participated at ProWein with 44 representatives, 41 being grouped under the country brand, a steep increase from 2015 when the delegation had only 24. The focus is not only external but also internal, through the National Wine Day, celebrated in Chisinau in October.
The unified advertising communication is noteworthy, converging with the values promoted: earth, water, sun, and the vine. The symbolic colors for these (black, blue, yellow and green) are found in both the online promotional materials and the hand-woven banner for the ProWein stand as a tribute to the vineyard laborers’ work.
The situation of Romania – lack of collective reputation
The massive investments in agriculture before the EU accession and the possibility of the subsequent commercial opening created the premises for an expansion of the wine-growing sector in Romania. Although the number of wine cellars aligned to international standards regarding technology and know-how has increased, exceeding 100, there is no convergence of the country brand in this respect or a unitary strategy.
The lack of authorities’ involvement in this issue can be interpreted in several ways, but it is not less condemnable.
A first interpretation may be related to the post-communist aversion to any idea of centralizing economic decisions. Another explanation may be a liberal approach to the situation, supported by capitalist and entrepreneurial ideas. A last and sad premise is the lack of interest in this sector and a laissez-faire approach that is detrimental to evolution.
Another major concern is also the individualist attitude of wine cellars who do not see the plus-value of such an approach.
It’s sad that between 2014-2018 Romania only attracted only 14% of the funds available for viticulture. This is due to a lack of association between small producers to qualify them to meet the eligibility criteria for funding. A productive collaboration could later turn into a creative partnership.
Association initiatives and international visibility
Up to now, there are two noteworthy association initiatives by wine producers, mostly small and medium-sized. Both aim to create a country brand to position themselves in international markets.
The Association of Romanian Wine Producers and Exporters (APEV)
Established in 2001, the statute promises its members support in the following forms: information, promotion, signaling of business opportunities, participation in specialized fairs (funded by the state budget).
There is an asynchrony of the objectives stated in comparison with the market realities, more than 10 years after the accession to the EU. It would be necessary to rethink the strategy and the presentation so that the APEV will not be out outdated and the 20 members (22 participants in ProWein) will benefit from real visibility, translated into sales.
Even if they are part of the APEV, some wineries such as Agricola Ştirbey and Cramele Recaş prefer to participate on their own in events like ProWein and the London Wine Fair. They don’t want a brand association with other members. This decision is justified by the success of these wine-cellars that export from over 10% (Stirbey) to 50% (Recaş) from production.
The association does not have any notable marketing initiatives, the online communication is minimal. It is inadequate to modern requirements and has outdated information, the latest bulletin information being since 2004. The only updated document is a technical report on the world of viticulture.
Premium Wines of Romania
Founded in 2014, almost as a protest, as a response to the failure of the previous organization’s objectives, it emerged from the desire of small and medium-sized producers to present their wines in a suitable setting to inspire a premium image on the external market.
With a total of 15 members, 6 of whom also belong to APEV, they manage to have a constant presence at the fairs. Each member retains its individuality and there is no intention of creating an umbrella brand or associations based on DOC. Sometimes, even members of APEV prefer participating alongside Premium Wines of Romania.
As marketing and brand communication elements, the PWR approach is superior to APEV, and they benefit from a more modern website that includes information about regions, varieties, and manufacturers. Unfortunately, their communication is not convincing, it is lacking information sections, membership criteria, or even a notable logo.
Coherence, convergence, and results
Why is a brand necessary? Because people tend to create effective affinities with them. Under the umbrella of the brand, the wine will no longer be a consumer product, but an experience. This new classification justifies a higher price in the mind of the consumer and creates an appetite for repeated consumption.
What is behind a brand?
First of all, it takes a story. The Romanian wines claim their existence at least as far as 2000 years ago in the Dacian era. Next, they live by association with medieval rulers and claim the bourgeoisie’s prestige from the beginning of the last century. Unfortunately, none of these premises resulted in a logo that would act as a symbol of the present quality of noble substance. A possible proposal could include a Phoenix bird, as a link to the revival of Romanian viticulture after each disaster (cutting down the Dacian vineyards, phylloxera, collectivization).
Products are not associated with strong brands, split into niches. Producers have not moved from competing to completing. To achieve this goal, a close collaboration between competitors is required to determine the characteristics that make every single product and focus on cross-selling.
A brand requires the product to deliver the same experience every time. Customers expect the same level of quality, triggering loyalty. In the wine world, it is difficult to obtain this result, primarily due to the variation in annual climatic conditions. However, positive associations can be created, especially at the emotional level, similar to what Coca-Cola does with the idea of family joy.
The last step is to turn the client into an ambassador. It marks the seduction of the consumer up to the level of recommending or buying Romanian wine products.
As a highly subjective opinion, as we do not have a well-defined brand, we have the opportunity to create something from scratch, bold and modern. I would completely abandon the ideas that lie in the discourse of all the producers. All are related to tradition, the earth, and the sun, and I would propose a modern, urban approach adapted to the current consumer. Why not a New World positioning, since most wine cellars are young? When will we hear the following remark from foreigners: “Ah, you are from Romania, that cool country with good wine!”?