Posts Tagged ‘diversification’

Could Yellowtail ales be Blue Ocean brews?

February 16, 2011

While Australia’s largest brewer slowly tears apart its less than successful attempt to also run a wine empire, one of our most internationally competitive (and innovative) winemakers is stepping into the beer business.

Casella Wines, who have grown extremely fast off the back of the game-changing Yellowtail wines (see this short case study for a sense of this success story), are advertising for a head brewer (see the ad here), and intend to brew “probably a few million litres a year” from a new facility at the Griffith, NSW winery site.

The firm’s wine brand has been lauded as a classic example of a Blue Ocean Strategy.  The central contention of Kim & Maurborgne is that:

“Casella created a social drink accessible to everyone. By looking at the alternatives of beer and ready-to-drink cocktails, Casella Wines created three new factors in the US wine industry – easy drinking, easy to select, and fun and adventure. It eliminated or reduced everything else. [Yellow tail] was a completely new combination of  characteristics that produced an uncomplicated wine structure that was instantly appealing to the mass of alcohol drinkers.

The result was an easy drinking wine that did not require years to develop an appreciation for. This allowed the company to dramatically reduce or eliminate all the factors the wine industry had long competed on – tannins, complexity and aging. With the need for aging reduced, the working capital required was also reduced…

In July 2001, Australia’s Casella Winery introduced [yellow tail] into this highly competitive US market. Small and unknown, they had expected to sell 25,000 cases in their first year. In fact, they had sold nine times that amount. By the end of 2005, [yellow tail]’s cumulative sales were tracking at 25 million cases.  [yellow tail] soon emerged as the overall best selling 750ml red wine, outstripping Californian, French and Italian brands.”

While the winery has made no claims that it is adopting such a strategy in its entry into beer production, it does raise some challenging questions:

What characteristics of beer are holding back new customers? Could Casella remove some?

The taste? The big name brews (think Bud, Miller, VB, Stella etc) tend towards the bland, but there is a lot of variety in the second tier (think wheat beers, stouts etc).  Certainly there are gains to be made in explaining such options in clearer language to neophytes, but a simply “this is beer message” doesn’t necessarily seem the best option. I will be very surprised if Casella if can stumble upon a clearly communicable alternative taste that is an inoffensive entrée into beer-drinking. Bitterness (i.e. ‘hopping heavy’) has become a big fave of craftbrewers, but that tends to play towards those already enamoured with beer’s dominant characteristic. Casella could perhaps go down the sweeter, more malted path… or, more courageously,  the fruity flavoured path (e.g. radler, kriek etc).

The fizz? Certainly the big name brews (think Bud, Miller, VB, Stella etc) have been reluctant to make non-gaseous product. Reductions in bubbles would match up with exploration of less typical styles of beer.

The overtly male/working class associations? Now, this might well be a possible target market.  Brewers have really struggled to ‘feminise’ their product (not helped by an obsession with perpetuating some other-beers-makes-you-fat-but-ours-doesn’t myth). De-rednecking has been the effective message in both the ‘imported’ and ‘craft’ segments, but that tends to have just pushed beer down wine’s snobbery path.  Targeting a more youthful market might require soft-drink/spirits type marketing (and, again, perhaps a sweeter/fruitier palate).

Is beer as confusing as wine? As snobby?

Again, there is some bifurcation here.  Major beer brands are typically presented as simply ‘beer’. Meanwhile, craft-brews tend to play up nuance and complexity, although to varying degrees. I guess if some of the current associations of non-beer drinkers can be overturned then confusion might decline.

What are the big element along which beers and brewers compete?

The Blue Ocean idea is that there are big gains to be made in making the normal battlegrounds less relevant and/or alleviating your firm of the ‘burdens’ of your competitors.

Despite all the discussions above of what’s in the bottle, most folks in the beer business will tell you it’s about access to drinkers (i.e. distribution), and finding a cost-effective production method to suit your intended price-point.  Beer’s core ingredients (malt/sugar, hops, yeast, water) are costlier when chasing more exotic/substantial flavours. Currently the big cost-savings come from large scale in bottling, packaging, trucking, marketing etc  Getting product on shelf and on taps is tough in the face of existing brand loyalties. Finding alternative delivery mechanisms that don’t cost much more is very, very hard (and even tougher given the legal constraints in multiple domains).

Might this just be diversification?

It is possible this is just old-school diversification, and Casella will ‘simply’ aim to leverage some of their current capabilities (in brand management, packaging, distribution, etc). They’re far from the first Aussie winery to go down this path (precedents include Moorilla, De Bertoli and Knappstein), but they’ll be the first with real international muscle.

What Blue Ocean opportunities (if any) can you see here?

 

The Shifting Language of Strategy

December 23, 2010

My post on International Business terms got me thinking about the shifting popularity of Strategic Management terms.

So, here we go with some comparisons.

Let’s start with the topic itself and its two main constituent threads (i.e. strategic management, corporate strategy, and business strategy):

All three terms boomed from the late 1970s, but it was business strategy (i.e. decisions about how to compete in markets) that screamed away from corporate strategy (what markets to compete in).  As with many of the IB terms, all the concepts have faded in recent years, perhaps as conversations became more specific (or even less-business focussed).

It doesn’t surprise that such corporate strategy has waned in a relative sense, as the orthodox rhetoric has been towards streamlined, focused organisations.  Looking at some of the typical such corporate strategy terms (diversification, mergers, acquisitions, outsourcing), shows a genuine plateauing in all terms, other than outsourcing which has raced up in the past decade (this no doubt reflects not just usage by strategy scholars, but also the critics thereof). Diversification peaked way back in the late 1980s (although this term has a considerably wider usage than its strategy meaning), which correlates pretty nicely with the decline in such behaviour (at least by Western firms):

The influence of Michael Porter, and his big ideas/tools (Five Forces, generic strategies) have proven surprisingly consistent in terms of usage, although they too have waned this millennium:

In terms of talking about competitive advantages, core competences/core competencies peaked in the early 200s, while dynamic capabilities are still on a steady rise (I get similar results with the singular versions of the terms):

What terms have I missed (conscious that comparing phrases with different word counts is not practical/tenable, nor does it make much sense to use terms with other common uses, such as resources)?

As this is likely to be my last pre-Christmas post, I wish you all a fun festive season and safe passge into 2011.

 

Starbucks could be onto a corker of an idea

October 27, 2010

In the past I’ve been pretty scathing of some of café giant Starbucks’ strategic choices.

They under-estimated the sophistication of the Australian coffee market, leading to large numbers of store closures.

They have since embarked upon a pretty risky expansion into the instant coffee market, that I have argued could be cannibalisation.

But, their latest move I can see a lot of merit in.

According to this story, Starbucks is experimenting with offering wine, boutique beer and hors d’oeuvres in their cafés:

“After 4 p.m., customers will be able to order wine chosen from Pacific Northwest vineyards …and local craft brews with prices … only slightly more than a Venti specialty coffee. Appetizer inspired platters ranging from Mediterranean plates to artisan cheese plates (brie, Gouda, cheddar, almonds) and Italian selections (prosciutto, mixed olives whole wheat crackers)…will be brought to your table.”

This has only been rolled out in one store thus far, but it seems a logical and complementary fit.

starbucks now selling wine beerIt addresses a particular weak spot in their retail model – that fewer people want coffees late in the day, and thus the firm’s valuable real-estate is underutilised at a time when many shoppers are still out and about.

It also plays to the firm’s strength as a provider of  a ‘third space’ where customers feel at home. Wine and beer are clear complementary products that appeal to some of the same customers, and in group situations, will bring in some new patrons also.

The interesting challenge/opportunity for the firm, is build some sense of community and excitement around the wines and beers on offer. The focus on local producers is logical and a nice way to overcome some of the growing distrust around their ‘big business’ status (e.g. in Australia). Such a buying policy also aligns well with the fair-trade coffee approach (smaller local beer and wine labels will have lower food miles and are more likely to offer organic fare also).

Exciting  also is the prospect that some brewers and wineries might be able to substantially boost sales through signing on as suppliers to what in many locales is a vase network of stores.

Much is made of Starbucks ‘education’ of US palates – perhaps wine and beer will be next…

I’m clicking to Westfield

June 17, 2010

Aussie shopping centre powerhouse Westfield (the world’s biggest shopping centre operator) announced a curious brand extension last week. The firm is reportedly planning to use its website as a virtual shopping mall, hosting e-commerce interfaces for a variety of retailers (with fashion being the rumoured kick-off).

So, is this a good move for Westfield?

As I’ve argued elsewhere, Westfield has five particularly powerful competencies: (i) property selection; (ii) redevelopment; (iii) financing; (iv) retailer relations; and (v) branding and marketing . The first three have no relevance to this venture, so the firm is only left with retailer relations and branding/marketing.

Source: Daniel Austin (d)Not

The retailer relations is partially about Westfield’s capacity to offer a more extensive suite of locations relative to rivals and the resultant bargaining power they wield as a landlord. It is also about Westfield’s extensive monitoring of tenant sales and sophisticated contracting processes.

Westfield already carries some information about tenants on their website, and because of their prominent landlord status can certainly attract the attention of these firms. I would be stunned if any of the retailers would grant Westfield exclusive rights to host/direct traffic to their e-commerce portal. Indeed, e-commerce is a substitute to the physical interface, and a mechanism these retailers can use to more effectively negotiate with Westfield as a landlord. Westfield will need to tread much more carefully in these e-relationships.

The counterbalancing angle may spring from the final competency – branding/marketing. Westfield was a global pioneer of using a common brand for their malls (indeed, my post title reflects the reported source of this brainwave – a founder heard a shopper saying they were “heading to Westfields”, and saw the scope for differentiation).

It may well be the case that online shoppers welcome the ‘browsing’ capacity of a virtual Westfield mall. New/small retailers with limited capital to expand their bricks and mortar footprint across Westfield’s 119 malls, may relish being next door to Zara, The Gap and Gucci on the Westfield website. It may also be a mechanism for virtual internationalisation. This could be a chance for Aussie retailers to test the waters in the US, UK and NZ without crossing an ocean. Presumably solely e-commerce retailers could also tap into this spillover effect. Getting this right could also extend consumer awareness of Westfield beyond their current whitebread Anglo markets.

The big challenge is making the site sticky enough. Westfield will need to fill the competency gap in build a user interface that is engaging, exciting and innovative. If they don’t get it right quickly someone could easily build a rival (Google perhaps?).

The uspide for Westfield is that there isn’t much downside here. I wouldn’t think there is an enormous investment required here. It is just a mechanism to augment an already profitable business (and perhaps distract some investors from the firm’s exposure to property price and finance risk).

Verdict? Interesting experiment that could conceivably secure some first mover/network effect advantage.

Benefitting from beauty school dropouts (and graduates)

May 13, 2010

It’s always nice when a discussion from my classes quickly gets tested in the ‘real world’.

A few weeks ago, as part of a discussion of diversification, I asked my students to identify related industries to various products and services. One of the services I mentioned was hairdressing, and among the suggestions was training schools for hairdressers, stylists etc.  We had a debate about whether this would also constitute vertical integration as it would serve to provide a supply of labour for firms in the industry.

In my old age, I’d forgotten an earlier blog post of mine on the diversification of Aussie make-up magnate Napoleon Perdis.

Well, Perdis popped up again in the news recently with a much more explicit discussion of the benefits to the firm’s salon franchising ambitions of also running ‘beauty schools’:

“The company should have a natural advantage in its franchising push thanks to the beauty training schools it operates. While these schools provide the company with direct source of staff and a strong network of brand advocates, they should also provide a steady stream of potential franchisees well-versed in the company’s processes and products.

“One of the biggest assets of the Academy in that it is a machine that does generate brand advocates. And it feeds itself, because the brand advocates pay to come and do courses, they purchase products and they go out there, advocating and indoctrinating others with the same fervour and passions and beliefs,” [said] Perdis…”

It really is a neat example of utilising corporate strategy to build an advantage beyond direct market-seeking.  The market for potential franchisees is tough.  Having such an effective mechanism to promote the firm (and screen franchisees) is a real boon for Perdis.