Cracks in the walls of mainstream consumer food retail: Naked Wines meets Kagio market.

Some time ago, I wrote about the concept of the value chain, and that I couldn’t match it with what I observed in informal emerging markets like in rural Kagio, Kenya. What I observed of the market there was not a neat box in the formal structure of a value chain, but a flexible, multipurpose node in the rural economy’s complex web of human interaction and exchange of goods, services, and knowledge; a value web.

Recently, I revisited this notion when I was reading an article on a company called Naked Wines. This company is by no means serving an emerging economy audience, but it is trailblazing the wine market and working it in the same way as I saw at the farmer’s market in Kenya.

Intoxicating innovation
Founded by an ex-banker and wine aficionado, Naked Wines provides a compelling value proposition to a considerable group of people who are looking for exclusive wines of origin. Naked Wines provides an online market place, where independent wine producers can sell their wines, and connect with the current 200.000 subscribers, as well as with occasional customers, through an online forum and rating system. The company shifts around 10.000 bottles a day.

The value proposition lies in solving a big chunk of search costs that wine lovers usually place into finding their exclusive wine, and offers it to them at a very compelling price point (though still more than what the average consumer pays for). No longer do you need to organise a wine tour to Lombardia each time you want to purchase batches of exclusive wines.

The crux
Many wine-grape growers would dream of being able to sell their own wines. Yet, most are deterred from doing so because of the financial risk. The whole system of the mainstream wine market is based on selling your grapes as fast as you can at moment of harvest to the bidder who will buy as much as possible, or preferably all, of your product. Going at it alone could come with the repercussion of big wine houses boycotting your grapes for good. No banker minding his pinstripes would fund such a move.

Naked Wines has solved this financial risk. By asking an upfront monthly membership subscription to its customers of about 20 euro, the company has a monthly reserve of 6 million euro to pre-finance a winegrower’s full harvest in return for exclusive purchase. Through this pre-finance, growers commit themselves to the platform, and in return customers can buy wines that are not available elsewhere at a discount rate.

For many growers the pre-finance is what convinced them to take the plunge, and is thus the x-factor that makes this business model work. Have a look at this awesome business model in the slides below, compiled with the business model canvas.


The bigger picture
Back to the case of Kenya, I see comparison. The integrated functions of the value web I saw there, are utilised in the same manner by Naked Wines through combining finance and a marketing proposition to growers, into a unique value proposition that can be carried by a specific market niche (“these melons are destined for Mombasa”). Also, in both circumstances the ubiquity of ICT has enabled this distributed, networked type of market, or value web to come into existence.

The big insight here is that in order to create a market, we are not dependent on figuring out what the average person wants on average anymore. Our connecting technologies support endless market re-segmentation possibilities at a global level, and serving them effectively and at low cost. Mainstream targeting is turning into a vulnerable strategy, and is likely be substituted by an endless variety of globally dispersed, yet easily connectable niches. 

There are those that say that the advancement of the modern supermarket, indicates advancement in developing nations. But with the new layout of the competitive landscape, I think that the legacy of the supermarket system in developed economies inhibits newer, and higher forms of value creation. In countries like Kenya, I predict you will not likely see the same pattern of development in consumer retail as in the current developed nations. Instead I expect a surge in food retail innovation that will leapfrog western markets (just like with mobile payments).

There is tremendous market power by coalescing value chain functions. By turning these functions from separate islands of myopic economic optimisation into purposeful networks that are hosted by a common business model, a new market power is unleashed. Cases like Naked Wines, show what can be achieved.

I think that businesses that are able to achieve these type of connections are serious contenders for overturning the status quo in the agriculture and food system. This is a huge opportunity to stab at mainstream retail culture, which has become complacent in providing value to farmers and consumers alike. Risk capital investing in the future of agriculture and food should be on the look-out for this business model pattern.


  • Difference is not so much made by the product or product technology, but more so by the business model
  • Integrating value chain functions into a network setup, hosted by a common business model, creates a disruptive innovation juggernaut in our food and agriculture economy
  • Yes, you can create tons of value by connecting consumers and farmers. But only if it’s purposeful
  • I think I need to change the title of my blog. Suggestions anyone?

WalMart opens up its’ business model for supplier innovation

Supermarket retailers don’t exactly have a good reputation when it concerns collaborating with suppliers. You either supply according to their specs and pricing, or you can take your business elsewhere. Now I recently stumbled upon a business model innovation in the most unlikely of cases, namely WalMart. This mega-retailer, which passed the astronomical billion-dollar-a-day turnover ratio some years ago, has launched an innovation program called “Get on the Shelf”. The program encourages small suppliers to showcase their ideas for new products, and provides the most compelling ideas with the opportunity to bring them to market through the WalMart promotion and placement channels. Have a look at the video below, which explains the program:

From a business model perspective this is very interesting for small suppliers. Essentially “Get on the Shelf” allows suppliers to use WalMart as a prefab for their own business model. In this prefab model, WalMart has filled in a couple of building blocks, namely:

  • Customer Relationships: promoting suppliers’ products through existing WalMart marketing
  • Channels: distributing suppliers’ products through the WalMart distribution and outlet network

What’s then left for suppliers is to plug their value proposition – customer fit into this prefab model. Interestingly, WalMart will not only work together with suppliers in building the marketing half of the business model. WalMart also offers the possibility of helping suppliers to achieve scale with their business, providing access to key resources and building key partnerships. In all, “Get on the Shelf” is  a tremendous opportunity for suppliers to amplify their value proposition.

For WalMart itself, this initiative creates a double edged sword. There are good ideas out there, which stem from suppliers’ own experiences in combination with their personal WalMart customer experience. These experiences might help the retail giant come up with new innovative offerings for their store. “Get on the Shelf” creates just that business model innovation space, which might bring forward the new business models that could drive retailer competition in the future.  At the same time, the initiative helps WalMart build relations with customers, through the people who are participating in the initiative and promoting the WalMart brand. Just type in WalMart and get on the shelf on youtube, and you will be treated to an interesting (and entertaining) array of value propositions.

Lastly there is of course the issue of the bottom line. The big question remaining is how the prefab model impacts suppliers’ cost structure and revenue streams, with WalMart probably taking a cut in both. Keen to look into some of the contracts if you can share them 😉