2016 Market Watch Wine Brand Of The Year: Kim Crawford

The market’s leading New Zealand wine sets the tone for the category.

Constellation’s Kim Crawford is on track to deplete over a million cases this year, a first for a New Zealand wine brand in the United States.
Constellation’s Kim Crawford is on track to deplete over a million cases this year, a first for a New Zealand wine brand in the United States.

Many brands face slower growth after reaching a certain critical mass. Kim Crawford doesn’t have that problem. The New Zealand wine brand has grown at a double-digit pace for years, surging six-fold from 2006 to 2015, according to Impact Databank. Founded in 1996 by Kim and Erica Crawford, the brand was acquired in 2003 by Canadian wine group Vincor, which in turn was bought by Constellation Brands in 2006. Back then, Kim Crawford stood at just 153,000 cases, behind Constellation’s own Nobilo and Monkey Bay brands. Today, Kim Crawford is the largest New Zealand wine brand in the United States by a margin of more than 325,000 cases.

Kim Crawford represents nearly 23 percent of the New Zealand wine category, which totaled 4.19 million cases in 2015 (excluding bulk), according to Impact Databank. Last year, the brand rose 17.2 percent to 955,000 cases, outpacing the category. Impact Databank projects that Kim Crawford will reach 1.1 million cases this year—which would make it the first New Zealand wine to crest the 1 million–case mark in the United States.

The Kim Crawford lineup is tightly focused. The core range includes just four wines: Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99 a 750-ml. bottle), Marlborough Pinot Gris ($17), East Coast Unoaked Chardonnay ($17), and South Island Pinot Noir ($19). The Sauvignon Blanc leads the range, in line with category trends, as the varietal accounts for 90 percent of New Zealand wine imports in the United States. The higher-end Small Parcels tier was launched in 2005 and includes five offerings: Spitfire Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($26), Favourite Homestead Pinot Gris ($28) from the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, Wild Grace Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay ($30), Rise and Shine Central Otago Pinot Noir ($33), and Marlborough Fizz Methode Traditionnelle sparkling wine ($35).

“New Zealand has remained dedicated to quality, and that commitment has safeguarded the region’s global reputation,” Julie Rossman, global marketing director for imported wines at Constellation, told Market Watch earlier this year. “New Zealand wines continue to command a premium versus other categories.” She notes that the average shelf price for the category is just over $11.50 a 750-ml. bottle, well below Kim Crawford’s price point. The brand has benefited from the overall surge in super-premium imports. In 2015, Kim Crawford was the largest deluxe (over $15) wine import by volume in the United States, according to Impact Databank.

The brand’s high-end positioning and strong quality-to-price ratio have helped Kim Crawford develop a robust on-premise business, especially in by-the-glass programs for its Sauvignon Blanc. The wine has found favor with female consumers across age groups thanks to Constellation’s “Undo Ordinary” campaign. High-profile events like the House of Kim Crawford in New York City add an element of upscale lifestyle marketing to the brand’s positioning.

Constellation is investing in further growth for the future. In January, it announced plans to double production at its Marlborough winery to 40 million liters annually. The NZ$50 million ($33 million) investment will support the ongoing growth of Constellation’s New Zealand wines. It’s a clear sign that the company expects the New Zealand boom to last for many years—and Kim Crawford will continue to lead the way.