Saturday Kitchen could feature independent wine merchants

Saturday Kitchen is open to the idea of filming on location in independent wine shops, the show’s producer Amanda Ross has told The Wine Merchant.

Ross, who is managing director of Cactus TV, is also prepared to explore the possibility of featuring wines on the BBC1 show which are available exclusively to independents.

There has been irritation in the trade that the show seems fixated on wines sold in supermarkets and Majestic – a point articulated in this month’s issue by Dave Eglington of The Wine Merchant issue 44Wolseley Wine Loft who accuses the programme of a “complete imbalance of wine offerings”.

Speaking exclusively to The Wine Merchant, Ross explained that strict rules imposed by Ofcom and the BBC put the production team in a “an editorial and compliance straightjacket”.

But she said it could be possible for the programme’s wine experts to film inside independent shops, provided the stores could not be identified.

She added: “We’d love to embrace all those indies. We will get the wine experts to research wine matches that could be readily available in independents and identify which shops we could film in.

“I’m an independent and I would love to help other independents.”

Full interview in this month’s issue.

Editor’s blog: “Not charity, but sensible editorial judgement”



The independents who cross the line

These early weeks of the year are a time for fresh thinking, new ideas, blank sheets of paper. Let’s face it: what else are you going to do in January, with half your customers detoxing and the other half staring at bank correspondence written in capital letters?

The coming 12 months are certain to see more independent wine merchants take the plunge into on-premise sales. (Our reader survey, which went live this week, will in due course predict just how big that trend is likely to be – feel free to spend 10 minutes with it, if you haven’t already.)The Wine Merchant issue 43

How do you go about changing your business model in this way, what red tape will ensnare you as you go, and what results can you expect? The new issue of The Wine Merchant has some helpful suggestions.

As always, we think the best people to turn to at times like this are the retailers themselves. We’ve interviewed four independents who have introduced on-premise sales in recent times, and they’ve told their stories with characteristic honesty. Each project came with its own quirks and challenges, and the nature of the projects varied from business to business.

We’ve also spoken to some legal experts to help make sense of the licensing and planning issues that are created when on-premise sales become part of the equation.

Is the day approaching when all wine merchants will be an on-off hybrid? No. The formula is an interesting one, and has proved itself in some villages and market towns as well as more metropolitan locations. But that doesn’t mean it can work everywhere, for everyone.

It’s encouraging to see so many indies going the on-trade route. But there will always be a place for the classic wine merchant model … and, for now at least, such stores represent the clear majority.

Reader Survey 2016

The independent wine trade is fiendishly hard to get to grips with – discussions about its size, value and prospects have for years been based on guesswork and assumption.

Our annual reader survey has changed all that. The questions we ask have helped us form a reliable picture oenotria logof how independents combine to form a credible, and growing, force in the UK market.

Once again our partner in this exercise is Enotria, which is supplying some pretty exciting gear for the prize draw of respondents.

If you’re a UK-based specialist independent wine merchant, with retail premises of any kind, click here to take this year’s survey. It will take no more than 10 minutes of your time and you can stay anonymous if you like.

Forty-five independents in issue 42

The Wine Merchant issue 42We talk to independent merchants all the time. We visit their shops, we bump into them at tastings, we travel with them to wine regions, we invite them to lunch, we chatter on Twitter, and we speak on the phone (until we hear that tell-tale beep of their shop door opening).

So it’s perfectly normal to pick up a new issue of The Wine Merchant and read comments from these independents – some in the form of full-scale interviews, some in snappier soundbites. But we thought there was something different about the November issue. Maybe we’re getting nosier, or retailers are getting more talkative, but we seemed to have spoken to an awful lot of independents in the process of putting issue 42 together.

A quick count-up reveals that 45 independent merchants are quoted, in some shape or form, in the new issue. We’re quite pleased with that. The only way a magazine like ours can meet the needs of its readership is to actually talk to those readers, as often as time permits and in as many situations as possible.

So thanks to all the independents who made time for us over the past month or two, giving us insights into their businesses and venturing opinions and ideas that will interest and inspire other merchants. The Wine Merchant is your magazine and we couldn’t make it without you.

Issue 41: what’s happened to the AWRS?

The government’s new registration scheme for alcohol wholesalers was meant to be in full swing by this point. Instead, the launch been postponed till the New Year. So what exactly has gone wrong?

The official line from HMRC is that “technical issues need to be fixed before the service is launched”. Wholesalers were supposed to start applying to join the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme from October 1, with inspections beginning on January 1. The delay has caused irritation at the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, which had lobbied hard for the new regime on behalf of its members – operators such as Booker, Bestway, Palmer & Harvey and the Today’s Group.

Page 1Chief executive James Bielby complained: “This late change is very frustrating for us and our members. Members have volunteered to test the application process over the past six months, and we have put considerable effort into informing them and other stakeholders of their obligations and the original timeline.”

It may well be that IT niggles are the genuine reason for the delay – indeed HMRC has said that it is now inviting selected operators to test-drive the registration system to iron out whatever problems lurk in the machinery. But perhaps part of the issue is that many of the businesses that will be caught in the net of the new regime have no idea that they are expected to register.

The FWD wanted the AWRS for perfectly understandable reasons. For decades, its members have been undercut and undermined by dodgy warehouse operators with a somewhat relaxed view of VAT returns and excise duty obligations.

The success rate in dealing with such bad apples has been notoriously low: businesses have a tendency to disappear as quickly as they spring up, and the costs involved in pursuing prosecutions test HMRC’s finite and already stretched resources. Suspicious stock gets impounded in the occasional raid, but it’s not unknown for it to be handed back due to insufficient evidence being compiled, and even for wholesalers that wriggle out of punishment to pursue an opportunistic civil action against HMRC.

On the face of it, the AWRS is a masterstroke as it turns the tables on rogue operators: it’s up to them to convince HMRC they are fit and proper people to wholesale drinks. If they fail to do so, their names don’t go on the central register and it’s illegal for retailers to buy from them.

The system was essentially drawn up to deal with the sale of duty-dodging lager and unfeasibly cheap branded wine. Specialist wine merchants are the nuts that this particular sledgehammer is hitting in the process, which is accepted by some independents but resented by others.

Although relatively few specialists are currently losing out directly to the duty cheats, as they compete in a different area of the market, it’s a comfort to some independents that efforts are being made to clean up the wholesale sector as a whole and to ensure that those who do play by the rules are not disadvantaged.

But if the new regime is to work correctly, the entire industry needs to be better informed about the AWRS, how it affects individual businesses and the penalties for not complying. A straw poll of independents by The Wine Merchant in advance of the original October 1 opening date for registration found that about a third of businesses knew nothing about the new system.

The majority of independents have some wholesale interests, and on average derive 20% of their turnover from such trade, so there is clearly a publicity problem that officials need to address. And almost all merchants buy at least some of their stock from suppliers who will themselves need to register on the AWRS. Buying from a source without HMRC’s seal of approval will soon be a criminal offence.

Might that lack of awareness be part of the reason for the sudden decision to halt this autumn’s registration process? Has HMRC acknowledged that, during the busiest trading period of the year, even merchants who did know about the scheme might forget to enrol?

The FWD may be fuming at the delay, after campaigning so long for the AWRS to be adopted. But if the scheme is to function as intended, it needed to avoid the chaotic start that it almost achieved.

HMRC may yet get it right in 2016, but for that to happen it doesn’t merely need to tinker with the IT – it needs to think long and hard about how it communicates a system that a significant percentage of drinks suppliers still don’t recognise or understand. Punishing a few non-compliant merchants to get the message across would be an unfair alternative to proper advance publicity.

This article appears in the October edition of The Wine Merchant – click here to access the digital version of the magazine.