Libby’s Pride Wines see the silver lining during tough times

In a time when the wine industry is still reeling from the sudden and 4th ban on alcohol sales, Elizabeth (Libby) Petersen, owner and CEO of Libby’s Pride Wines reflects on her business and how it has grown over the years.  “We have to stay positive”, she says “and adapt to our ever-changing environment.”

It has not been an easy journey for Libby.  Losing her job while coping with her husband’s life-threatening illness, Libby took a leap of faith and started her own wine company in 2009.  In the early years she struggled to get funding to grow her business.  Black-owned brands did not get the recognition or support they deserved, and it was only after the South African Wine Industry Transformation Unit (SAWITU) was established in 2016, that she could start seeing a remarkable change.

“Growth happens when people work together towards a common goal,” says Libby.  “SAWITU understands our challenges and their support programmes are geared towards helping black-owned brands through the various phases of business growth.  However, the most important thing is what you make of the tools and assistance you receive from them.  At the end of the day, it is still your business, and you have to make it work,” says Libby.

Libby’s Pride Wines started with 60 cases of mixed wine that was sold out of hand and also had to be used for tastings.   Today, they sell up to 4000 cases per year and with the assistance of SAWITU, have listings with national retailers like Pick n Pay and Checkers.

Diversity makes the difference for Libby’s Pride Wines.  The wines have been selected to suit different markets and consumer needs.  From the initial 4 varietals, the brand now boasts a series of 10 wines in the range.  These are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin, Chardonnay, Sweet White, Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet, Pinotage, Sweet Red blend and a Sweet Rosé.  Libby recently added Michelle Sparkling, named after her daughter-in-law.  Although this wine is still sold in fairly small quantities, it shows great promise of becoming one of the popular wines.

Prior to the pandemic, Libby’s Pride Wines built beautiful momentum with the Tops@Spar Wine Shows in 2019.  Funded by SAWITU, the brand participated in major cities like Durban, Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha), East London, Cape Town and Johannesburg and substantially expanded their national footprint.  “We made great sales and were sold out at every show,” says Libby.  “The other benefits of participating at these consumer and trade shows are the fantastic market exposure, the listings with restaurants in the different provinces and the after-show sales to consumers requesting our wines.”  To this day, Libby’s Pride Wines delivers 10 cases of wine every month to a particular client since the Tops show in East London and other smaller orders to clients across the country.  “Libby’s Pride was well on its way of becoming a household name and it made us very excited.  We hope to resume this momentum once the pandemic is under control.”

“One thing that we are really proud of, is our Chardonnay that came in 6th out of 100 at a blind tasting during the Tops show in Durban.  This surprised many of the panel members, but particularly one of the most prestigious sommeliers in the country,” Libby said with a little giggle of joy.  “This made me so proud to be a black-owned brand and to shift the perspective about the quality of our wines.”

International market growth is still a challenge.  “Continued visibility and consistency in the market, and especially after show follow-up are key growth factors”, says Libby.  Wines are currently exported to China and Botswana due to the support of SAWITU and to Denmark due to a personal connection of Libby’s. “Although the quantities are still low, we are happy to have tripled our exports to Denmark since 2019”.  The brand also participated in a consumer and trade show in Accra, Ghana in 2019.  Libby loves the vibe of this African city, the friendly Ghanaian people and the promise of support by the many fellow South Africans who relocated there.   “I’m very excited to export there in future, but unfortunately the current logistics and infrastructure are too high of a risk at the moment.  Wines are not stored under the right conditions, influencing the quality of the wine and risking the reputation of my brand.”

Administrative challenges that SAWITU assisted with are VAT registration, financial mentorship and acquiring a liquor license for Libby’s Pride Wines.  These are important steps to independence and invaluable to small businesses to operate legally in South Africa.

The effect of regulatory and legislative changes during the pandemic is detrimental for growing businesses.  “The erratic alcohol bans did immense damage to the wine industry and threatened the livelihood of my business,” says Libby.  “Thankfully the COVID Relief Funds administered by SAWITU helped us to “breathe” and scrape through until we could pick up our sales again. Loyal and new customers really came through for us by placing orders during the restrictions and patiently waited for deliveries once the bans were lifted.  We are eternally grateful to you!”

“My business grows exponentially with different forms of assistance and support since we became members of SAWITU, but one of the things that picks me up on a bad day and makes every successful business deal more special, is the personal attention of Wendy Petersen, the Operations Manager of SAWITU.  I cannot measure it in rands and cents, but it is invaluable to me as a person and renews my hope for a better future for black-owned brands in South Africa.”

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