“With effect from 1 June, John Loomes will replace Boyce Lloyd as CEO of KWV,” read a statement from the maker of popular Roodeberg wines. The announcement ushered in a new era of leadership for the company that has been a mainstay in South Africa’s alcohol industry for more than a century.

During the wine industry’s fledgling years, KWV played a major role to unite wine producers, and during its boom, elevated its status in the global arena by distributing South African wine to more than 100 markets globally.

In the face of climate change and unreliable power supply, KWV- now under the leadership of John Loomes – is again in the cockpit, captaining South Africa’s wine industry into a sustainable future. “The expectations that I have for KWV, are high”,  introduces Loomes.  “We firmly believe that we will maintain and even grow our significance in the wine and spirits sector in South Africa and obviously internationally, including Africa.”

To make this a reality, Loomes is reliant on everyone in the value chain, from suppliers to consumers, including customers and of course, the company’s dedicated staff, who have a vital part to play. “You know, our staff are the backbone of our business and without their commitment and involvement, we wouldn’t do as well as we do,” he says.

A diverse portfolio of brands

KWV has a diverse portfolio of brands that includes 13 wine brands, 10 spirits brands, 3 ready-to-drink products, and 2 non-alcoholic products. Its premium range is comprised of some of the finest wines and brandies in the world as evidenced by the endless number of awards they have won in both national and international competitions.

In the wine category, the Mentor’s premium range stands out as one of the finest with its Cabernet Franc 2019 taking the ultimate accolade “Best in Show” at the 2022 Decanter World Wine Awards in London. That same year, KWV was awarded the world’s best brandy producer of the year at the International Spirits Challenge with its Brandies scooping 5 awards including 3 double golds at the same event.

As a major wine and spirits producer, KWV also tries as much as possible to keep its wines accessible to a majority of South African and international consumers. Both entry level and wine enthusiasts on a budget can access pocket-friendly but good quality wines from the famous KWV Classic Collection or the Iconic Roodeberg brand. “Having entry level pricing is important for some of our offerings,” Loomes explains.

Even at the entry level, Loomes notes that the wines have to be immediately memorable to people to make them want to stay in wine. “And once you get new consumers into the category, they will explore and they will develop their tastes in different directions, which is what we want.” Whether it be the award winning wines and brandies, or the affordably priced offerings, KWV tries to satisfy all its consumers varied and evolving tastes.

Staying ahead of trends

KWV has been constantly innovating to remain relevant in a market where new trends influence consumer tastes and preferences. This is reflected across its sparkling wine, liqueur, ready-to-drink and non-alcoholic products ranges, which were introduced to meet changing consumer tastes and preferences. When it comes to wine, Loomes reveals that the Rosé style is currently in vogue.

“There is a big trend in Europe where Ros’e is having a fantastic run at the moment and we are certainly seeing some of that in South Africa as well.” KWV has various offerings in this category including Laborie Rose, KWV Classic Rose, Roodeberg Rose, and Pearly Bay Sweet Rose which are certainly expected to receive a boost. 

To keep things interesting, KWV has a quarterly Winemaker’s selection that “is carefully curated by our team of award winning winemakers,” and “places the spotlight on new vintages, special releases, as well as some of our award-winning wines”.

Beyond the seasonal trends, Loomes notes that “wine enthusiasts often prefer their own wine styles, their own cultivars, and they are happy to continue drinking what they value and what they have bought over time.” The same is the case in the Brandy category, which is performing very well of late. Loomes bets on consistency in quality and taste to continue winning in the Brandy market.

“To be relevant in Brandy, you have to be consistent in your high quality and accessibility to your consumers, and you also have to play across the spectrum of brandy, both at a blended brandy level as well as right up to the premium potstill brandy’s, which we do, from our 10, 12, 15, and 20 year old premium offerings”.

Whether in Wine, Whiskey, Gin, or any other category that KWV has a presence in, Loomes promises an unswerving commitment to excellent products. “We provide products that meet the expectations of our consumers, and as we continue to do so, we will maintain and grow our share.”

Building a sustainable business

Loomes steps into the leadership role at KWV during a challenging phase in South Africa’s alcohol industry. A confluence of various factors from unreliable power supply, high inflation, and climate change is threatening the sustainability of the sector. Loomes is however vastly experienced having successfully led different companies including Dubai-based energy drink company Power Horse as Business Director and earlier as General Manager overseeing African operations at Austrian-based multinational energy drink company Red Bull.

Before his promotion to CEO, Loomes had an opportunity to understand the inner working of KWV as Chief Operating Officer, from September 2022 to May 2023.  “I think if any one thing prepared me best, it might be the last nine months, but this combined with an accumulation of experience over many years.”

As CEO, he has already identified the trend of farmers abandoning grape farming for more profitable crops as one of the biggest threats to the sustainability of the business. “This poses a big risk because it takes years for a vineyard to reach maturity where it can give a full yield and its quality is up to standard,” he reveals. To secure the business, Loomes believes policy certainty is important and long term contracts are important. “Our farmers are of massive importance to us,” he says.

In its quest to remain a sustainable business, KWV also strongly looks at environmental sustainability as an important part of what it does. “We are constantly looking at more environmentally friendly methods of operation, from environmentally friendly gases for refrigeration, solar, and a carbon footprint reduction” Loomes reveals. “It’s about considering all that is important to the sustainability of our own business as well as the environment.”

Growing in Africa

In its early years of operation as an alcohol exporter, KWV mostly concentrated on the European and Asian markets where reception was warm. In Sweden for instance, the Roodeberg brand is a household name while in Japan, the KWV Wines range and Wild Africa Cream are particularly popular with consumers. In the past few years, the focus has included Africa, with entry into Tanzania, Namibia, Mozambique, Angola and Kenya to name a few, yielding satisfactory results.

With the implementation of the African Free Continental Trade Area, Loomes is cautiously optimistic about the opportunities that it could offer African businesses. “I think this would certainly remove some of the prohibitive duties and taxes imposed by certain countries on certain goods from other countries,” he says.

“Of course, having worked in Africa for many years, I have experienced how difficult it is to take something from paper to reality.” He however confirmed that KWV is certainly on the lookout for potential new markets. “We will certainly launch into new markets where we’ve got an opportunity to build our brands sustainably over time.”

This feature appeared in the September 2023 issue of FOOD BUSINESS AFRICA. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE