As former top marketing executives at Bacardi U.S.A., Raul Marmol and John Gomez were used to launching new products with multimillion dollar national advertising campaigns, slick television commercials and a staff of more than 50 people.
But when they launched Eppa Sangria in October 2011 at Whole Foods stores in Florida, it was a grass-roots effort, and a low-budget venture with no advertising.
Both Gomez and Marmol were regularly working at tastings at the Coral Gables Whole Foods near their house, helping pour the product for consumers and fetching more cases of their wine from the shelves. Partner Britt West was doing the same thing at Whole Foods in Miami Beach, while partner Gonzalo de la Pezuela was running tastings himself at stores from Key Biscayne to New York.
The entrepreneurs wanted to see first-hand how consumers would react to the sangria they had been creating for about 2 ½ years. The result was better than anyone could have anticipated: Between 50 and 60 percent of the consumers who tasted a glass walked away with at least one bottle. The record was a tasting at the Coral Gables Whole Foods, where they sold 106 bottles. Normally a good tasting is about two dozen bottles, they say.
The Whole Foods performance was in essence the test market for Eppa Wine Company, and the first indication they had a winning formula.
“If the Whole Foods customer in Florida wasn’t going to be purchasing the product, we didn’t have a business,” de la Pezuela said. “It was a way to validate the concept.”
That success has continued. During its first calendar year on the market, Eppa is on track to sell about 40,000 cases for 2012 – about 40 percent higher than expectations. The company expects revenues of $2.7 million for the year.
“We blew away our model,” Marmol said. “This has been a remarkable consumer success from the day we put it on the stores. The feedback has remained consistent – it’s all about the taste.”
The key to Eppa’s success has also been its focus on creating a new market niche – billed as the first premium sangria.
Eppa Sangria is far different from the typical $5 bottle of sangria or jug wine that consumers dress up with some brandy and sliced citrus fruit. Eppa is made from organically grown grapes and crafted with a blend of Mendocino cabernet and syrah. The sangria also contains a blend of organic fruit juices rich in antioxidants, including pomegranate, blueberry, blood orange and acai juices. Eppa is designed to be poured straight over ice, though adding fruit is certainly an option.
Coming next spring is a white version made with Mendocino County chardonnay mixed with mangosteen, peach, mango and blood orange juices.
The suggested retail price for both is $11.99, although you’ll find Eppa priced as low as $9.99 on promotional specials. While it’s about twice the price of the typical sangria, customers are still buying.
At Whole Foods in Pembroke Pines, Eppa is consistently one of its top three wines in the store, which has an inventory of about 800 wines, said Alex Mendoza, the store’s wine specialist.
“Usually after they taste it they buy a bottle, then they come back for more,” Mendoza said. “It’s very easy drinking, not too sweet and not too tart.”