Last month?s wine tasting event at a Whole Foods Market location in NYC that featured Divine Chocolate, founded in 1998 and made in Ghana, and wines from South Africa and Brazil, reinforced for Selena Cuffe, founder of Heritage Link Brands, that her company?s work on popularizing wine and other luxury goods from these regions is exactly what she should be doing at the moment.
?It was really about showcasing a group of people that everyone can relate to. The origin of mankind comes from Africa, but you rarely see where products of African origin and/or owned by Africans are showcased. Having done different showcases with my producers in South Africa, I got the idea of partnering with a retailer who could bring awareness and a level of brand recognition that a small business couldn?t do. So we decided to partner with Whole Foods and it?s been really successful,? Cuffe told TNJ.com.
According to Cuffe, the event did so well that she has already had three more events there; another one is scheduled for right before New Years.
Heritage Link Brands, an African-American owned consumer goods company, showcased the products at the Columbus Avenue location. Shortly after, the Market?s wine store sold out of all of the wines featured.
?They said it was one of the best events they had all year,? she shared.?
For the tasting, there was a wine from South Africa, and there were chocolates produced from a cooperative of 85,000 Ghanaian cocoa farmers. HLB?s ambassadors themselves are also of the diaspora. The team includes a resident chef who is Afro-Latina, and two other members of the team who are of Liberian and Ghanaian descent. ?On that level, It was great to have them talking about the wines and chocolates they would pair and the explorations of the consumer and understanding about African culture and Diasporan culture that you just don’t hear talked about all the time. And with my husband and I owning the company, it also extends that story to the base of the value chain and the supply chain because we get to tell the story of our creation,? she notes.
That story is that Cuffe started the business, got married and became pregnant with her first child all in the same year. Their business, which they started with just a few credit cards, is about importing and producing wine. ?Because of America?s love/hate relationship with alcohol and adult-focused products, during post-prohibition the country instituted a three-tiered distribution channel and so by law, we sell to distributors who then sell to customers like Whole Foods Market, Walmart and general grocery and restaurant businesses,? she says.?
She continues, ?The issue is that we just don?t have enough of a presence. In an industry where everyday I compete with publically traded companies, it is imperative for me to collaborate and partner with like-minded brands to garner and have the desired impact that inspired me to get into the business in the first place. We started the business at a time when there were only 4 Black-owned brands in South Africa. Now, there are over 30 Black-owned brands in South Africa. We would not have been able to do that without partnering and collaborating with like-minded brands.??
A former marketing executive for Procter & Gamble, Cuffe says she became inspired to grow her business when she learned about South Africa?s profitable wine industry.??
?The inspiration was to leverage my education in business to help normalize and bring fairness and equality to an industry that was definitely not representing us as a people. I found out that South Africa has a 3 billion dollar wine industry, but less than 1 or 2 percent of those businesses were owned by Black South Africans – in a country that is 90 percent Black. It just pissed me off to the point where I began to feel some kind of way about drinking wine that was NOT produced by Black South Africans,? she shares.??
Says Cuffe. ?I?ve had many diverse experiences in marketing products and here was one I could feel passionate about. I am not South African, but inadvertently, I felt like it was my people?s story.?