The Grove and Skinny Champagne
12 September 2017 / Food /
Champagne: The next generation
Amanda Thomson, the brainchild behind Skinny Champagne, talks to The Grove about the success of her sugar-free wine brand.
Seduced by the romance of Champagne, Amanda Thomson can pinpoint the exact moment she decided to leave her high-flying job as a BBC broadcaster to launch a selection of sugar-free wines. “I fell in love with the glamour of Champagne at events early on in my career and I even met my husband at the Cannes Film Festival,” she explains. “But in 2009 I had this real lightbulb moment where I realised that alcohol is one of the only things we consume without really knowing exactly what’s in it.”
As someone who grew up on a vegetarian diet and had sugar as ‘a rare treat’, Amanda understood the value of natural products long before clean eating made its way on to the UK’s foodie map. From the global avocado fetish to our passion for spiralised courgettes, there’s no doubt that people are more aware of their food choices than ever before. But while everyone knows how much salt is packed into a processed lasagne, they often have no idea how much sugar goes into the average bottle of wine. “I wanted to start my company Thomson & Scott to create a selection of wine and bubbly that tasted absolutely amazing, but was free from chemicals and added sugar,” says Amanda. “It’s not a health food product, because it still contains alcohol, but I do believe cutting out the additional sugar and chemicals is much better for you and it’s more transparent- people know what they’re drinking. It’s also vegan and that’s really important as more people become aware of veganism and want to support the movement.”
Thomson & Scott officially launched its range of Skinny Prosecco, Skinny Champagne and Skinny Wine in April 2016 and is now a top seller in major UK department stores- but it didn’t come without a slog.
After the lightbulb moment, Amanda decided to throw herself into the entrepreneurial journey feet first. On a quest to expand her knowledge, she and her family moved to Paris for three years in 2010, where she enrolled on a specialist wine course at the Cordon Bleu Cookery school. The first diploma of its kind, Amanda was able to learn about wine in a holistic sense, not just tasting but getting a wider understanding of the business through marketing, sales and vineyard visits. She describes the move as ‘a huge gamble’ as she had no back up plan if it failed. Thanks to several years of hard graft, endless phone calls and steely determination, the rewards are finally starting to show and the drinks brand is gaining a loyal following.
“Our consumers are around 70% female, but we do have a lot of male fans too,” she explains. “The age range varies hugely but our most visible clients are millennials. They are the ones who share pictures of products on Twitter and Instagram and they often attend our events at fashion launches and department store pop-ups.”
In terms of choosing partnerships, Amanda is very selective. “When I choose a partner to work with, I look at the customer and their journey and I work with a really wide range of companies and venues. The way I select people to work with is quite instinctive- I just get a feeling that it would be a good fit. Our customers might visit a five-star hotel one week, and then go to a trendy street food bar the next. Versatility and authenticity is really important.” This diversity is also represented in the brand’s events, which range from high-end dinners to product launches at vegan food festivals.
Inspiration and passion have been two of the driving forces behind the creation of the brand, something Amanda keeps in mind every day. From listening to Ted talks to gaining insight from motivational speakers like Simon Sinek, she is constantly searching for new ways to make the brand even more successful. “One of the things that Simon Sinek teaches about entrepreneurialism is to always think about ‘the why’. Why do you need to launch this product or start this brand? Having a very clear objective has been crucial to my company’s success- every brand needs a reason to exist.”
As a former arts correspondent and a fashion and food fanatic, Amanda also takes inspiration from London’s dynamic cultural scene. “There’s some hugely exciting things happening in London on the food scene right now,” she explains. “From street food to the amazing new chefs, it’s one of the best cities in the world right now.”
Owning a hot brand in a rapidly evolving food and beverage market isn’t easy, and Amanda has no qualms talking about the challenges. From the early starts to the endless sales pitches and constant admin, it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done. “Starting a business is not for the faint-hearted and I spend pretty much every waking moment thinking about and working on the brand. If you go into this game just to make money, that’s a really bad idea. You need a strong product that you’re incredibly passionate about that people will really want.”
While she’s the first to admit there’s no such thing as an easy ride in the world of business, Amanda wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s amazing to have come so far and have this incredible brand of delicious products that people want to buy. I think every entrepreneur needs to really enjoy the moments of success that make all the hard work worthwhile.”