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UK wine firms should look to US market for growth, says senior trade figure

Published:  09 April, 2014

British wine firms should look to the US, where domestic wine consumption is outpacing supply, says trade stalwart James Forbes, who has formed a US-focused company.

Forbes, former buying and marketing director at Stevens Garnier, started Blue Fruits in January 2013, and chose the US as its main market given the potential there.

"Our initial focus was to be the UK - it made logical sense - but the wine trade is very parochial and then we looked at a blank piece of paper and decided where to go instead of following the norm.

"We settled on the US over China or Europe as the macro-economic climate is very good there. Wine is a growing category and forecasts suggest it will grow for a long time. At the same time although most of the wine drunk in the US is produced there - around 70% - the rate of growth in consumption is not being kept up with by production. They need to import wine to satisfy demand," Forbes told

"UK wine companies should be far less parochial," he added.

He said the US market is also more open to branded wines, while UK retailers are often more focused on own label wines.

Add to that the cultural overlap - it's an English speaking market - and Forbes is Canadian and grew up in north America, and it made sense.

Blue Fruits is focused on creating brands, either alone or in partnership with wineries, as that way "you can sell anywhere - we can get scale and volumes through different markets".

Planet Bee is the first brand it owns and is exclusively selling. It is a South African Chenin Blanc, which donates money from each sale to safeguard the bee population. It has been listed in the UK by Mitchells & Butlers and is distributed through Morgenrot.

As for the US market, out of the 50 states - each has their own rules on selling alcohol - Forbes says it narrowed its  target areas down to 12 states, and is currently in three. It is also working in Central America and the UK. He says the global nature of the business is relatively easy to manage if you "expand in a controlled way" and work with strategic partners with local market knowledge.

Forbes set up the company in January 2013 along with Guillermo Moore, an Argentinian who Forbes met when working at Wines of Argentina.

The pair are focused on affordable wines - those at under £10 in the UK and below $15 in the US.

It is looking to launch a Portuguese brand in the UK, US and possibly Brazil in the near future.