Co-Founder and Head of Sales at NICE Drinks – Lucy Wright is on a mission to disrupt the wine industry.
Lucy Wright has grit. Where some might shy away from disrupting a male dominated – and rather old school – industry, she relishes the opportunity. In a pink jumpsuit, with a big smile on her face no less.
To Lucy, it’s an advantage to stand out from the crowd and she’s right, of course. But we’re intrigued by this impenetrable sense of self confidence. Launching her own business straight out of university, Lucy claims that it was actually her lack of experience that helped her. “Naivety can be a good thing.” she exclaims. Now Co-Founder and Head of Sales at NICE drinks, we catch up with Lucy on the lessons she’s learnt along the way, and a thing or two about wine.
Tell us a bit about how you entered the food and drinks industry
It was actually straight out of university. I studied Fine Art at Newcastle and I’d done a series of internships in Interior Design in my final year where I realised that it was more fun to decorate your own home than other people’s (laughs). I was catching up with my best friend from school after I’d finished that summer and she said that she and her mum had developed this idea for an on-the-go breakfast brand. I immediately loved the sound of it, so I just went with my gut and we started Cuckoo – an on-the-go bircher muesli brand. We had no business experience and we launched it very naively, but we learned so much and it made me completely fall in love with the industry.
So how did you go from an on-the-go breakfast brand to NICE drinks?
After we sold Cuckoo, I set up my own consulting business working with small food and drink brands and in my second year of running that I met Jeremy May who was leaving his job at Proper (most well-known for Proper corn) at the time. We got talking and decided we’d love to set up a business together.
Not long after, I was scrolling through Instagram and spotted some brands selling wine in a can. I’d never seen or heard of wine in a can before and I traced the businesses back to the US. I could see there were lots of canned wine brands there, so I delved into the data and saw that the category was really growing.
What I loved was that the brands were really modernising wine. There was none of this stuffy, old school, intimidating wine language. I also loved the fact that it was a functional option as you could drink it on the go so I immediately knew that I was a consumer. What got me really excited was the opportunity to disrupt this very stuffy category. It didn’t really exist in the UK at the time, so I spoke to Jeremy about it and we decided to go for it.
What got me really excited was the opportunity to disrupt this very old school, stuffy category.
What do you think makes a successful wine business?
It’s a combination of things – from having the right wine and the right looking brand to the value chain and price point. But I think there’s a real opportunity to do something different in the wine industry right now. It’s largely male dominated, stuffy and stuck in its ways, as well as really slow.
It’s a category that’s in decline so bringing new, disruptive ways of thinking to it is key. That’s what will bring new customers in and grow the category overall. So I think it’s really about doing things differently, putting the consumer first (which the wine industry hasn’t done to date), giving people a functional option and making it less intimidating. Everyone’s been made to feel silly by a wine waiter so let’s make wine more understandable.
What made you decide to start with a dry Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec?
We’re a very data driven business, so we delved down into the data on the most popular varieties. Then we did a taste test in Jeremy’s old office with 25 friends and a variety of wines. We had about 200 Red Bull cans that we spent the entire weekend cleaning out and covering with duct tape so that we could put the different wines in them. Then we had a big questionnaire which people answered while tasting – and from that, we chose the wines.
Who are NICE drinks aimed at?
Well, data shows that young people aren’t drinking as much but the vast majority of the population still are. We predominantly target women – though at first, we thought they were around the 18-25 age bracket, but actually the data has shown us that it’s more like 26-45 and there’s a 70/30 female to male split.
Part of your manifesto is ‘Wine for the moments that matter’ – can you name some of these moments?
For so long, the wine industry has paired wine with food but actually you don’t always pick wine to go with food. Sometimes you want to pick a wine to drink in the park on a sunny afternoon with friends or something like that. So that’s why we wanted to highlight these sorts of moments. We’re much more focused on pairing wine to life moments than with food.
What really excites you about the business?
For us it’s when we see people enjoying our wines. We have a big presence in train stations and, before the pandemic, I had so many photos from friends from where they’d seen people drinking our wine on the go. Also, when I see people drinking NICE at festivals for example – it’s those real-life moments where we see people consuming our wine that feels really exciting.
What has been the biggest highlight for NICE drinks so far?
The past couple of months (April & May) were our best to date. We’re now a team of eleven – ten women and one man (laughs) and there’s a lot of momentum at the moment and a lot of interest in the business. Coming out of this pandemic with things starting to open up again is going to be big for us.
Do you work with a wine expert in the team?
Yes. Jeremy and I had lots of experience in many things, but we struggled with the wine side of things a bit. Therefore, I reached out to a contact I had and was put in touch with the MD of a wine agency, who is just incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. He has great relationships with lots of key people in the industry and has always been really interested in cans but didn't have the experience that we have – we both needed each other’s knowledge so he quickly became a partner in our business.
When you started out in the industry, how did you tackle speaking to buyers – for example when you went to Selfridges with Cuckoo and no experience?
It’s a great thing when you have no experience as you can kind of make your own rules. We somehow got hold of the right person’s email address, they came back to us, we pitched, they listed us - it all happened very quickly. That doesn’t ever happen! Usually, you have to chase them hundreds of times, so I think it was a bit of luck really. And because I had no experience, I’d do things differently. Naivety can be a really good thing.
It’s a great thing when you have no experience as you can kind of make your own rules. (...) Naivety can be a really good thing.
What inspired you to run your own business?
Building something interests me. Building a brand and building a team – I just can’t imagine doing anything else. My dad always owned his own businesses and I always admired people that did. It wasn’t something I really thought about too much, I just jumped into it – that’s the best way to get experience I think.
The wine industry is very male dominated as you say, does that impact or help you in any way?
I feel like it helps if anything. If I walk into a room and it’s all men, which it often is, it doesn’t intimidate me – I see it as an opportunity to stand out. I know that I’m bringing something different to the table, and new ways of thinking. Also, the men I work with are fantastic. They understand and recognise that the wine industry needs more women so they’re really supportive. They know that the category needs modernising for it to grow overall.
What are your plans for the future of NICE drinks?
There’s a number of things. We want to become a B Corp business, which is a business that balances profit and purpose. It’s a big and rigorous process but we’re hoping to be certified by the end of the year.
Winning more partners is going to be really important. In terms of the bigger picture and future plans we ultimately want to be a brand that really changes the wine industry and puts the consumer first.
That’s really exciting but sounds like it’s a busy time. How do you unwind?
I always have a lovely hour-long walk in the morning with my dog and I also have a really nice breakfast like pancakes every morning – I really indulge in it. I also love a massage, so I make sure I have one every couple of months.
What do you think makes you a real Hedoine?
Launching a canned wine business in a 90% male dominated industry with most of the industry thinking that cans are the most sacrilegious thing that you can do. Just ignoring that and going for it, while wearing a pink jumpsuit and looking really stylish of course!
You can find Lucy Wright and her pink jumpsuit over on LinkedIn or Instagram. NICE drinks are there, too, or on Twitter. While you’re here, share this article with someone who you think it might inspire or sign up to our newsletter to be the first to know when the next Real Hedoine lands on the blog.