Taking action

Features Posted 01/11/22
Surrey-based family wine business Sea Change is passionate about turning the tide on plastic pollution. We catch up with co-founder and director Toby Hancock to find out more…

In 2022, every business should be embracing sustainability. All firms, regardless of their size or industry, can play a key role in bringing about positive environmental change. Whether it’s reducing waste, using energy-efficient practices or supporting a cause, the sky is the limit when it comes to your green credentials.

Sea Change is a perfect example of an eco-conscious brand. Operating from Leatherhead in Surrey, it is passionate about creating great tasting ethically sourced wine and protecting our oceans and the animals that live in them. Every bottle of Sea Change helps fund ocean conservation projects across the globe and minimal, plastic-free packaging reduces waste and environmental impact.

For every 75cl bottle of Sea Change sold, the brand contributes a minimum of €0.25 to its charity partners, which include global collective Ocean Generation and smaller organisations such as Olive Ridley Project and Sea-Changers UK. Since launching in 2018, Sea Change has raised in excess of €250,000 to help protect marine wildlife and prevent plastic pollution from taking over the world’s oceans.

So, how did Sea Change come to be? Well, it all started back in 2006 when Toby Hancock and Bill Rolfe founded 10 International, a specialist wine agency that builds and develops wine brands from different countries across the globe. “The first brand we launched was Pink Elephant, a rosé wine to match spicy food,” explains Toby. “We supported, and still support to this day, Elephant Family, a charity focused on the survival of the Asian Elephant. Since then, we have grown our range and now sell approximately 10 million bottles a year in the UK, through our sister company 10 International Ireland and across about 20 markets around the world.”

Toby and fellow directors Ian Hanley and Simon Rolfe came up with the idea for Sea Change a year or so pre-Covid. “We were at a wine fair in Germany having dinner with a Canadian customer and discussing the importance of wines with a purpose,” says Toby. “There are thousands of wines on the market but it’s good to make a difference as well as just run a business. Our customer mentioned that the biggest issue at that point in Vancouver was all the plastic washing up on the beaches, and most of it wasn’t from Canada or the US, but it had spent years crossing the Pacific from Asia.”

He goes on to explain: “That got us thinking and we investigated further. When looking into it, the big elephant in the room is the wrap around the top of the wine bottle, which is plastic or a plastic metal mix – completely non-recyclable, non-biodegradable and, of course, not necessary. From there, we began to explore how we could best package Sea Change and remove unnecessary plastic.”

The continually evolving Sea Change range encompasses key varietals from France, Italy, Spain and beyond. Most recently, the team introduced two lines in cans – an Italian sparkling wine and an alcohol-free sparkling wine – which, Toby points out, has been received very well worldwide. “We have built the range up to offer a wide choice from around the world, working with key winery partners that share our principles and are striving to improve and become more sustainable,” says Toby. “Sea Change has captured our customers’ and end consumers’ attention. It has been our best, most important launch and brand since we started.”

When it came to creating the branding for Sea Change, the team wanted to convey the dangers of plastic pollution, reminding people why the animals living in our oceans need to be protected. This inspired them to design unique bottle labels featuring beautiful, hand-drawn illustrations of at-risk sea creatures – albatrosses, dolphins, sea lions, starfish, sea otters and more. If you look carefully, you’ll see the plastic hidden inside them. The labels have been recognised with a Special Commendation in the Harpers Design Awards.

The wine brand has grown year on year since launching, but like many businesses, it had to pivot and adapt when Covid hit. Sea Change very quickly launched an online shop for local Surrey customers, as well as those around the UK, with the office transforming into a mini-warehouse/packing site. “The team have been great during the challenges of the lockdowns and Covid,” says Toby. “We had to learn new skills on how to start and run an online shop, fulfil orders and up our game on social media. We expanded our customer base and have really enjoyed working with more local Surrey customers and smaller independent businesses.”

The past 12 months have presented a huge challenge to logistics around the world. Toby reveals that Sea Change has been impacted by production cost increases and general supply chain failures. “However, working hard, and in partnership with our suppliers and customers, we have turned this into a positive and grown the business as a result.” He adds: “Last Christmas we also worked on corporate gifting as wine and sustainability is definitely a good fit for many businesses.”

Looking ahead, Sea Change will be adding to its wine portfolio. A premium range, including NZ Marlborough Sauv Blanc, Provence Rosé and Australian Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, is expected to launch this winter, and with the recent success of the new sparkling and alcohol-free cans, the brand may move into a still wine range of cans soon. “We’re currently working with an innovative -shirt company to create some Sea Change T-Shirts made from seaweed,” adds Toby. “And, crucially, we will continue to build distribution around the UK and internationally. We are really pleased to now have Sea Change available to most UK universities and we want to build on that for the second half of this year.”

I ask Toby what advice he has for SMEs that are eager to do more to embrace sustainability. He says: “I think a good dose of humbleness is useful when it comes to sustainability as it is very complicated – there’s lots to learn and it’s impossible to be perfect. Transparency is critical as people are starting to see through the marketing and greenwashing and want to work with products that have genuine sustainable credentials and are truly striving to improve the product/service.”

Toby passionately explains that UK households throw away 96.6 billion bits of disposable plastic a year, much of which ends up choking our oceans, rivers and lakes. “Recycling is not the answer,” he says. “Less than 10% of plastic used worldwide is recycled – the majority is incinerated or dumped in landfill. That’s why it is frustrating to hear anyone trying to claim that circular recycling of plastic is the answer as the numbers quite simply don’t add up. We have to change our habits! We think that individuals need to start making real changes to their lifestyle and so do businesses.”

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