Independent wine merchants are an upbeat, positive and energetic bunch. But they’re not delusional. The pound’s capitulation against the euro and dollar(s), coupled with the chaos of Brexit, presents some big challenges for indies.
Our reader survey, reported in this week’s edition, reflects this. Just under 70% of respondents remain positive about increasing their trade in the coming 12 months, but this contrasts with 81% last year and 89% in 2015.
The results were compiled before last week’s 8p-a-bottle hike in wine duty, which hasn’t exactly lightened the mood. Throw soaring business rates into the equation and you have a recipe for gloominess.
But independent wine merchants are resourceful types, and experts at spotting opportunities. And if there’s an economic downturn, they’re often the beneficiaries, picking up extra business as consumers forego nights out in favour of home entertaining – in the company of better quality wine than they might previously have bought. It’s a phenomenon that Laurence Hanison, recently retired from Mill Hill Wines in north London, has experienced first-hand during three recessions.
Independent numbers grew, in net terms, by around 40 last year, bringing the total of specialist wine shops to 822 as we write. More shops are opening than closing. And the new entrants often have imaginative, wide-ranging business plans that go way beyond simply putting wines on shelves and waiting for punters to walk through the door. Take look at the likes of Unwined in Tooting, Jaded Palates in Devon or Burgess & Hall in Forest Gate for some recent examples.
The coming year is going to be tough for many. But we’re willing to bet that the independent sector continues to grow – and thrive.
Coverage of this year’s reader survey appears in the March edition of The Wine Merchant and continues in our April issue.
Wine prices would increase by an average of 30p a bottle if the full impact of the pound’s collapse since the Brexit referendum was passed on, according to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association.
Chief executive Miles Beale says the currency situation has “fundamentally affected” wine retailers and calculates it would take a 10% cut in excise duty in the March 8 Budget to balance out the effects of the pound’s slide since the summer.
The WSTA is calling on the Chancellor to reduce wine and spirit duty by 2% which he claims is the “very least” the government could do to alleviate pressure on the drinks industry. Beale is urging wine merchants to write to their MPs to argue the case for lower duty, which he says could also deliver higher returns for the Exchequer, based on the experience of 2015 when spirits duty was cut and wine duty frozen.
The WSTA is in talks with counterparts in Europe and around the world to draft trade agreements to give politicians ready-made solutions to the challenges they will face after Brexit.
“The UK government can’t start these negotiations immediately, but we absolutely can,” Beale says. He predicts relations with non-EU wine producers could improve after Brexit.
The full interview with Miles Beale appears in the February edition of The Wine Merchant.
The number of consumers taking wine courses is continuing to soar, according to figures from the WSET.
Students from outside the wine trade account for around 30% of the 17,000 WSET exams taken in the UK each year. Their numbers increased by 55% last year and figures for the first three months of the current academic year – September to November – show that the momentum is being maintained.
The stats make encouraging reading for the independent trade, which arguably benefits the most from an educated customer base. Some merchants – including Loki in Birmingham, Hennings in Sussex and JN Wine in Northern Ireland – are WSET educators.
Graham Cox of the WSET says: “We’re appearing at more consumer events and our social media is much more engaging.
“I would also say that our network of providers is better spread and better geared up to deliver. I think if you went back five years, a consumer trying to find a course wouldn’t have been exposed to the marketing, and may have struggled to find something in their area.”
The Local Wine School network, another WSET provider, now operates from 40 locations around the UK. Student numbers grew by about 40% to just under 2,000 in 2015-16, with the trade-consumer split estimated at 50-50.
This story appears in the January 2017 issue of The Wine Merchant.
Every year The Wine Merchant carries out the most comprehensive survey of the UK independent wine trade.
It’s that time again and we’d love all our independent wine retailer readers to spend 10 minutes of their time to take part.
Obviously we don’t share individual responses but collectively the data we compile helps us build up a very detailed picture of the state of play in the independent trade.
Our friends at Hatch Mansfield are partnering us this year and have generously donated five cases of wine which will be sent to five respondents chosen at random.
Please click here to take part.
Where did 2016 go? We were just beginning to enjoy it – well, bits of it, anyway – and then it was all over. For The Wine Merchant, at least. This is our final edition of the year (there really is no point publishing on December 15) and so we hope it keeps you going until January.
This year we’ve set a new personal best for the number of trips, lunches and masterclasses we’ve organised for independent wine merchants and there have been memorable excursions to France, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Germany.
We like to share these things around as fairly as possible so do keep an eye on our Twitter feed for details of what we’re getting up to in 2017. Many of our projects will also be mentioned in the email alerts that we occasionally send out.
We’re also on the hunt for judges in next year’s Wine Merchant Top 100. Again, we like to mix things up every year so as many independents as possible have chance to take part. Sometimes merchants worry that they “haven’t done any wine judging before” … but of course they have, as part of the buying decisions they make for their businesses. The judging process for our competition is remarkably similar to that.