The immigrant woman who launched the biggest wine brand in the world – Franzia

In honour of International Women’s History Month, it is appropriate to honor some of the most famous women in the history of wine. Teresa Franzia is one of those who very few people have heard of, but who helped launch two of the biggest wine brands in the world. Standing at a towering 4’11 inches, Teresa immigrated from Italy in the early 1900s to meet her fiancé, Giuseppe Franzia. They settled in Ripon, California, and by 1906 Teresa had planted wine grapes in her backyard. Over the years, this grew into an 80-acre vineyard, and the Franzias made their living selling wine grapes. They survived Prohibition by trucking the grapes east to sell to local winemakers.

Towards the end of Prohibition, Giuseppe returned to Italy to visit his family, leaving Teresa to take care of the vineyard and their five sons and two daughters. While he was gone, entrepreneur Teresa took out a $10,000 loan, using the vineyard as collateral. She gave $5,000 to her sons to start Franzia Winery and loaned $5,000 to her son-in-law, Ernest Gallo, who started E&J Gallo Winery. Today, Franzia boxed wine is the largest wine brand by volume in the world, and E&J Gallo is the largest winery in the world. It’s not a bad investment for an Italian immigrant who is often overlooked in the history books, even though her business acumen and foresight were incredibly sharp.

In a recent online interview, Jeff Dubiel, Marketing Director of The Wine Group, owner of the Franzia brand, along with Cupcake and many others, explained the importance of Teresa’s vision. “We honor Teresa as part of the history of our vineyard,” he said. “It is his spirit of enterprise and innovation that we try to keep alive in our business.”

Building on Teresa’s legacy of entrepreneurial innovation

Indeed, the history of the Franzia brand and its phenomenal growth over the years is filled with innovation. “From the start,” Dubiel said, “Theresa believed in quality, freshness and value.” For years, the family managed to sell inexpensive Central Valley California wine in bottles and decanters. When Teresa died in 1949, her sons took over running the business, but eventually sold it to Coca-Cola.

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At Coca-Cola, Franzia became part of the wine division headed by Art Ciocca, who was married to Teresa’s goddaughter. Art loved running the wine division, and when Coca-Cola decided to leave the company, he recruited a group of friends to do a leveraged buyout of wine brands and started a new company called The wine group in 1981. With Franzia as their biggest brand, they decided to expand production, while maintaining quality and value. To do this, in 1983, they adopted a new packaging technology developed in Australia: Bag in a Box wine. Thus was born the boxed wine Franzia.

Wine for the masses, not for the classes

“The company developed a marketing slogan for Franzia,” Dubiel reported. “They called it ‘Wine for the masses, not the classes.’ The aim was to make wine accessible, fun and accessible to everyone.The launch was a huge success, with 90,000 cases sold in the first year, climbing to ½ million cases in the second year.

Today, Franzia sells 23 million cases of wine per year, making it the largest wine brand in the world by volume. It is sold in 30 countries and, after America, is particularly successful in Japan, Hong Kong, China, South Korea and the Caribbean. The second wine brand by volume in the world is Barefoot, owned by E&J Gallo.

“It’s amazing,” Dubiel said, “but more than one box of Franzia is sold every minute in America. We did consumer research and learned that our customers are often introduced to Franzia at the start of twenties (Gen Zers) and stay with us for a while until they get more sophisticated and try other brands of wine, but then they come back as they get older (Boomers) and look for new value. So we have a very bifurcated group of consumers. From a brand perspective, it’s good to have this kind of diverse consumer makeup.

Dubiel explained that it’s the relaxed, laid back and fun image of Franzia wine in a box that makes it appealing to so many people. Franzia boxed wine is taken on a hike, to the beach, to parties, camping, game nights and other casual get-togethers. “Based on many conversations with our consumers,” he said, “we discovered a simple insight – at the end of the day, friendships are made over a box of Franzia.” This is part of the inspiration for their new marketing slogan – “Franz (friends) for life”.

Franzia continues to innovate with new box sizes and flavored wine

Although the 1.5 liter box of Franzia continues to be their daily bread, the brand’s team continues to innovate. Recently, they introduced a new 3-liter box of low-alcohol, low-calorie wine coolers that come in peach, strawberry, wild berry, and other flavors. They also released a small 500ml Franzia tetra box, affectionately called Little Franz.

“Boxed Franzia wine lasts 6 weeks after opening,” Dubiel reported, “and each box comes with an insurance stamp. The majority of our wine comes from our California vineyards, which are 100% certified sustainable, but we also source from other countries, such as Argentina, Chile and Australia.

Franzia is distributed in the United States by a team of distributors, such as Southern-Glazers, RNDC and many small independent operators. “Our biggest challenge is making sure we don’t run out of stock on the shelf,” Dubiel said. “That’s a good problem to have.” He mentioned that Franzia is ranked #1 in consumer loyalty in the wine category, according to Nielsen statistics. The wine is often entered into wine competitions and “55% of the time people prefer Franzia in blind tastings”.

Asked about future goals, Dubiel said: “We would like to remain No. 1 in the world. Our priorities are to continue to grow and stay relevant so that we can keep young consumers with us. There are so many new flavors to explore, as well as the new Seltzer category – it opens up lots of opportunities for innovation.

A new female CEO at the head of Franzia

In 2020, The Wine Group hired Cate Hardy to be their first female CEO. She had served on the board of directors for 4 years before assuming the executive position. His background includes nearly 15 years of leadership experience in the food and beverage industries, with companies such as Starbucks and PCC Community Markets.

Chances are, Teresa Franzia would be thrilled to see a female CEO overseeing her beloved Franzia brand. She would also be happy to learn how many people around the world can benefit from her view of the quality, freshness and value of wine. In the end, her two $5,000 business loans were exponentially successful and she truly deserves a place in international women’s history.

In his later years, Franzia’s first CEO, Art Ciocca (who died aged 84 in December 2021), wrote a book titled, Go off the beaten track. In the prologue, he wrote the following passage about Teresa:

“When Giuseppe came back from Italy and learned what his wife had done, he had a fit. He thought it was too risky and far too perilous for his family. He was a simple farmer whose goals began and ended with growing vines. Little did he know that Teresa’s entrepreneurial venture would have such a monumental impact. This petite Italian woman started two of America’s greatest wine businesses, while her husband was away in Italy. What began as Franzia Vineyards at the turn of the century has blossomed into a thriving business that has grown and evolved through the hard work of everyone who has invested in its future.”

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