Pursuing the palate of the modern consumer: What made the acquisition of this low-sugar wine brand so tantalizing

Christine Moll, chief marketing officer for the 10th largest wine company in the U.S., has more than two decades of experience in understanding beverage alcohol consumers.

At Marin County-based O'Neill Vintners & Distillers, Moll oversees marketing and innovation for a portfolio of over three dozen national and exclusive brands. National labels include Line 39, Robert Hall Winery, Harken, Day Owl Rosé, Game Box, Rabble Wines, BrandyLab, and Charles Woodson’s Intercept Wines. Brands produced exclusively for customers include Firebrand for retailer Total Wines & More.

“The modern consumer purchases brands that care about them, their communities and the world — in addition to providing premium products.” Christine Moll, chief marketing officer, O’Neill Vintners & Distillers

This year, the company was certified as a B Corporation and has secured sustainable certification of all the growers O’Neill buys from in California, totaling 15,000 vineyard acres.

Christine Moll, chief marketing officer, O'Neill Vintners & Distillers (Mattea LinAe photo)
Christine Moll, chief marketing officer, O'Neill Vintners & Distillers (Mattea LinAe photo)

Moll was born in Guatamala and moved to the U.S. for college, graduating from Florida International University with an MBA in 2001. That year, she started as senior brand manager for Bacardi USA, focused on Bombay Sapphire gin, D’usse cognac and Corzo tequila. In 2012, she moved to a similar role at Campari America, and in 2015 moved up to category manager for tequila, rum and gin.

In 2018, she joined O’Neill as vice president of marketing and moved up to the C-suite at the beginning of last year.

The Business Journal caught up with Moll about the company’s latest acquisition, the low-sugar brand FitVine. The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How large of a brand is FitVine?

During 2020 and 2021, FitVine saw great acceleration, particularly at retail, attributed to the brand’s consumer recruitment efforts at the point of purchase. In 2022, the brand continues to lead the wellness category and is estimated to deplete (from retailer inventories) almost 300,000 9-liter cases, representing $125 million in retail sales. That’s according to NielsenIQ U.S. sales data for the 52 weeks ending Sept. 10.

Where is this brand is sold? How will that change, if at all?

FitVine currently sells in most of the leading retailers across the country. There is a lot of opportunity to continue to expand the brand’s footprint in retail, and we also see a great opportunity to start expanding the brands into the on-premise channel.

What growth is planned for this brand?

A brand that considers itself “for everyone and every occasion,” there is significant growth potential for FitVine.

FitVine is already the category leader of the “better for you” segment, a current bright spot in an otherwise flat wine category. That segment is up 58% and representing $125 million-plus in sales.

But FitVine isn’t just competing within the BFY segment. Expanding out to the super-premium price point ($15–$30 a bottle) at large, FitVine has multiple (stock-keeping units, SKUs) performing in the top 20 of their varietal, indicating that this brand is resonating with a wide range of consumers, according to Nielsen data. We also see great potential in driving growth through a dynamic innovation strategy.

(FitVine) founders Mark (Warren) and Tom (Beaton) have accomplished an amazing feat in creating a new and thriving segment within the plateauing wine category. And our focus will be on continuing to drive home their core tenant, crafting and delivering delicious wines that do not compromise a wine drinker’s active lifestyle.

From our perspective, there is a lot of opportunity for brands to better deliver relevant consumer experiences that meet the changing needs of wine drinkers everywhere. Whether it be ingredient transparency, sustainability, or everything in between, going beyond terroir and varietal will only help wine resonate more deeply with evolving consumer needs.

What are some of the additions to O’Neill’s portfolio of “brands appealing to the modern wine drinker“?

O'Neill has several brands that appeal to modern wine drinkers. First, there is Line 39, supporting social needs of food insecurity through our annual Plate it Forward campaign. We also have Harken, a California chardonnay that is 100% barrel fermented and is certified sustainable, featuring transparent ingredient labeling.

Rabble Wines contributes to the philanthropic 1% For The Planet throughout the year and supports One Tree Planted during April's Earth Month.

The modern consumer purchases brands that care about them, their communities and the world — in addition to providing premium products.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before coming to the Business Journal in 1999, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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