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Invivo: From Graham Norton’s grape crushing stunt to stevia-based spritzers to capital raising

Invivo will launch a stevia-based spritzer in Australia this week to cater to the non-sugar, alcoholic beverage market. Invivo already makes spritzers (a mixture of wine and soda water) and has been selling them in Australia.

Co-founder Tim Lightbourne says the company has been experimenting with using stevia, a calorie-free sugar substitute from the tropical stevia plant, to replace sugar. It has been trialling the product at the open access food innovation facility The Foodbowl in South Auckland.

The stevia-based passionfruit, mango and strawberry spritzers will be launched in New Zealand in February and the company hopes to sell 485,000-500,000 bottles in the first year in all its markets.

Invivo’s forray into the spritzer space is tied in to co-founder Rob Cameron’s passion for experimentation. Cameron made wine in Europe for seven years and during that time made spritzers in Slovenia.

“We were looking at expanding outside the wine category, at consumers and their experiments with different flavours, and at different consumer profiles. Rob had experience making spritzers while in Europe, so we looked at what product we could cover and thought adding different flavours in a spritzer would work.

“We experimented with the flavours, took them to the Mangawhai market – the feedback was awesome,” Lightbourne says.

In Australia, the company is using Red Island, a marketing company that successfully marketed Rekoderlig ciders in Australia. Manufacturing is being done in Hawkes Bay and Australia..

Meanwhile, the company is seeking to raise $2 million to fund its expansion, through private equity. “The investment will be used to support the growth of the spritzers, launch of our wines and spritzers in US, further (additional) personnel, and supporting growth opportunities in our focus markets Japan, UK, Australia, Canada and here in NZ,” Lightbourne adds. 

Current shareholders of the company are: Lightbourne, Cameron, Vern and Annette Dark; Neville and Liz Findlay (founders of Zambesi); and Graham Norton. 

Invivo started life in the throes of post-recession in 2008 but has managed to stay profitable despite operating in a touch environment. The company’s savvy marketing coupled with success at winning wine awards, have helped underpinned its growth. In 2012, it was a Deloitte Fast50 company, ranked 24th among high growth companies.

“We have been seeing an annual growth rate of 50% (per annum) over the last two years, and have been profitable for the last four years. We have been seen very strong growth, and  over the years we have learnt how to manage the growth, and costs,” he told Idealog. Revenue this year is estimated at around $5.5 million.

In 2008, the company launched its first sauvignon blanc. The list has grown since then, with the company now making rose, pinot gris, sparkling wine, sauvignon blanc, low calorie-wine, as well as spritzers.

Given the expansion, Invivo thinks it is about time to rebrand itself to reflect the range of alcoholic beverages it now makes. Its brand was developed in 2008 by Zambesi and has been effective, Lightbourne says. 

Millenials and rebranding


Although it has yet to confirm a name and the timing of the rebranding, the company has been looking at private equity to lineup fresh capital for its expansion. 

“We are looking at all options (to raise capital). The investment will be used to support the growth of the spritzers, launch of our wines and spritzers in US, grow personnel, and support growth opportunities in our focus markets Japan, UK, Australia, Canada and here in NZ.”

He says wine will always be a core business but Invivo is loking to tap into complimentary ranges and “becoming that wider beverage company”. 

The company hopes to gain the interest of millenials, the young drinkers who don’t necessarily care for the complex terminology of wine making, according to Lightbourne. RTDs (ready-to-drink alcohol beverages) has a growing market among younger drinkers. In New Zealand, the RTD market’s dominant player (2013) is Independent Liquor (NZ). 

“They simply want to know if the end product tastes good, and if the values of the brand align with theirs. Does the brand engage with them on their level, ie, does the brand get involved with similar events they like, is the brand authentic, and who are the people behind the brand?,” Lightbourne says.

The can-do and don’t be afraid to ask quality has been some of Invivo’s most enduring qualities that have helped create space for itself in a highly competitive market. 

Way to Graham Norton’s heart, feet

Picture from Invivo’s website: Segment from Graham Norton’s book

Lightbourne recalls how the company got Invivo wines to find a spot in every Graham Norton show. 

“I had read somewhere that he likes New Zealand wine. When I was visiting London, I contacted the show, spoke to the producer — I told him we are a New Zealand company making wine, particular Sauvignon Blanc, and asked we could send him a case of our wine for them to taste.”

Lightbourne later followed-up with the show’s producer, and asked if he could supply wine for the show. The rest is history — a glass of Invivo wine now sits near Graham Norton, next to his red couch — the brand is not visible, the glass of wine is. Every audience in the show also gets offered a bottle of Invivo wine to take home.

Invivo topped the stunt this year by getting Norton to agree to stamp grapes for juice that went into making a wine carrying the ‘GN’ initial on the bottles. The concept was developed by creative director and founder of The Goat Farm, Vaughan Davis.

Norton dedicates a bit of his book The Life and the Loves of a He Devil to the event. “Up until the moment of actually stamping I was more concerned with my feet than the grapes. This was because I sort of assumed it was all going to be faked. The winemaker … wouldn’t have actually travelled over 11,000 miles with a box of grapes. Obviously you would just pop into Waitrose, buy a couple of bunches, take the pictures and then throw the murky juice away before heading home. Sadly, the wine makers from the land of the Hobbit are far more principled than that,” Norton writes.

Invivo is hoping to replicate its success, using another big name “brand ambassador” in the US when the company launches its wine there next year, Lightbourne says.

In the early days, Lightbourne was the “brand ambassador”, standing in liquor stores offering Invivo wine to customers.

These days, the company’s wines are sold in some 13 countries, and its geographical focus is increasing outside New Zealand, Lightbourne says.

Loves peanut sauce, tennis, taichi, stockmarkets, and cool entrepreneurs – not necessarily in that order. In her previous reincarnations, she was an intranet worker bee at Mercer HR Consulting, a Reuters worker ant, and a NZ Herald mule.

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