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Independents and suppliers question big players that have not signed Harpers Best Practice Guidelines

Published:  08 October, 2014

There is growing frustration amongst both independents and suppliers that have signed up to the Harpers Best Practice Guidelines over those companies, particularly the large national distributors,  that have not done so.

The issue was returned to time and time again at yesterday's Harpers debate between leading independent wine merchants and suppliers that looked at ways in which both sides could work better together

It is the latest in a series of open debates that Harpers has held for independents and suppliers. The first of which, in September 2011, resulted in the formation of the Harpers Best Practice Guidelines that was agreed by both independents and suppliers and provide a framework of trading practices by which suppliers can sign up to show their support and commitment to the sector (see below for the full Guidelines).

To date 20 suppliers have signed up to the Guidelines which were also formally relaunched at yesterday's London debate, with a new logo, dedicated section of and a new marketing programme to help suppliers that have signed up better promote what they are doing.

Leading suppliers that have been part of the Guidelines initiative since its inception spoke about the benefits it had brought to their business. Some also questioned those suppliers, particularly the large national distributors, that have chosen not to.

It was an issue that was clearly a growing problem for leading independents.

Jamie Hutchinson: I would rather only work with Best Practice suppliersJamie Hutchinson: I would rather only work with Best Practice suppliersHutchinson has cut his number of supplier from 35 to just nine

Jamie Hutchinson owner of The Sampler independent merchants in London said: "With some of our suppliers that still haven't signed up I ask myself why not?  I still think there is a lot of work to be done."

He said he had dramatically reduced the number of suppliers he was working with from 35 to nine. "Six of which have signed up to the Guidelines. But we would like it to be nine out of nine."

Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants, said: "The Guidelines make sense.  If you're a large company with lots of agencies I know it is harder, but it is not impossible."

Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine MerchantsHal Wilson of Cambridge Wine MerchantsWilson urged suppliers to sign up to the Best Practice Guidelines

Wilson added:"I know that in some companies that haven't signed up they have discussed it a senior level management. So I know people are thinking about it. But it is relevant to my business to know that suppliers have signed up."

Tim North of French producer, Les Grands Chais de France, that signed up to the Guidelines this summer, said it was now right for "people to structure their business" in a way that matched the transparency and channel management principles the Guidelines set out. "If businesses say the independent sector is important to them then they need to be part of this."

Julia Jenkins of Flagship Wines argued there were "clear tangible benefits" for those supplies that followed the Guidelines. "There is a huge number of suppliers that I deal with who I would like to see fully embrace it. It is not good enough not to sign up."


Hallgarten's Andrew BewesHallgarten's Andrew BewesBewes is keen for Hallgarten to sign up to but wants to get its 100% right first

Andrew Bewes, managing director of Hallgarten Druitt, one of the large national players alongside Bibendum, Liberty, Enotria and Alliance Wine that have not signed up, said he had come to the debate in order to find out more about how the Guidelines might work in his company.

Leading independents and suppliers attended the London debate this week

He added: "Why we haven't signed up is down to complexity.  Yes, It is an excuse and I am first to say that. But we do print the Guidelines internally."

But he conceded trading conditions and the intense competition out in the sales field, particularly in the on-trade, meant it was not as easy to sign up completely as others may believe. "It is is hand to hand combat out there.  When you multiple it out across the country it is hard."

He added: "We are doing a bit deep soul searching right now.  It is something we want to get right. I would like to sign up and I think we can with the added management that we have built into our sales people." 

But he stressed: "If I am signing up I wanted to deliver on it.  We have to open and honest. Independents just want us to get it right.  We want to go to them with an offer that is sensible balanced and open."

Ranulf Sessions of Treasury Wine Estates said it was also very keen to sign up to the Guidelines but wanted to make sure it was able to follow them completely before it did.

"We have worked hard to segment our portfolio over the last 12 months and we know we need to have a clear segmentation policy. But it has to be 100% and water tight.  We are learning and I think we are heading in the right direction.  But we aren't there quite yet."

Guy Young of Kingsland Wines said it was also at the debate to hear more about how the Guidelines can work in its business. "It has been fantastic to hear the debate and there have been some key learnings. But the internal policing of this can be quite challenging."

Bibendum also attended the event to hear more about how it can better work with independents.



Wilson urged suppliers to sign up to the Best Practice Guidelines