May edition: safety in numbers?

issue 25 front pageFrom time to time there are calls for independents to work together. Massive buying groups; a trade body that allows everyone to speak with one voice; a charter that defines all dealings with suppliers. All these things have been suggested and occasionally attempted.

It’s not hard to understand why these ideas spring up. Independents are dwarfed by the multiples, often misunderstood by suppliers, and frequently left out of the big conversations affecting the drinks industry.

Does that mean that independent merchants are clamouring to be part of a unified group that speaks for them all? It’s hard to find evidence for this claim. Although there are certainly those who believe there is strength in numbers, and that independents share broadly similar objectives and ambitions, there are many more who seem happier to plough their own furrow. It’s hardly surprising. They’re independents.

Independents have been conspicuous by their absence within the Wine & Spirit Trade Association. The organisation is now reaching out to the sector in the hope that more retailers can be persuaded to join its ranks and influence its lobbying effort. Details appear in the May edition of The Wine Merchant.

Persuading indies to show solidarity with the big brand owners they distrust and eschew, and the supermarkets that continue to wreck small retail businesses, is a task perhaps best suited to a United Nations envoy with experience of some of the world’s thornier battle zones. But who’s to say it isn’t worth a try?

The WSTA achieved a victory for spirits duty in the recent Budget. The beer industry has won tax concessions of its own. It would be defeatist to assume something similar couldn’t be achieved for wine.

At the very least, it’s worth listening to what the WSTA believes it can offer to independents. In turn, the organisation has pledged to offer a sympathetic ear to small retailers. It could lead to something progressive and interesting, or it might lead to nothing at all. Nobody can say it isn’t worth the conversation.

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