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Prowein 2015: Bibendum PLB uses fair to showcase new multi-channel strategy

Published:  18 March, 2015

The recently combined Bibendum PLB company was able to showcase its new business strategy to the international wine industry at this week's Prowein with 120 of its producers taking part in the show.

With separate Bibendum and PLB stands the new separate channel strategy approach was there to be seen in practice, said the group's chief executive Michael Saunders.

This week's ProWein has been an "excellent opportunity" to really drill home not only to its own producers, but to buyers from the UK and all over the world how the new Bibendum PLB will work in the future both as a combined business, but also as different companies serving all the main trading channels, said Saunders.  "Having separate stands for Bibendum and PLB does reflect our strategy," he said.

 Bibendum will continue to service the on-trade, PLB will look after the multiple and specialist off-trade, Walker & Wodehouse will be looking to build business with independent wine merchants, Instil is the company's spirits and craft beers arm and the Wondering Wine Company will cover live events with its travelling wine bars.

"It brings great clarity to what we are looking to do and are able to offer our customers," added Saunders.  

He said it has been able to use the show to communicate to all its customers that it can now offer a true multi-channel approach with dedicated teams able to create bespoke plans for each trading channel.

He is just back from two and a half weeks on the road visiting and talking "face to face" with many of its key producers around the world.

ProWein was the also the first time its producers would have had the opportunity to discuss the details of the merger with fellow producers and the Bibendum PLB teams.

It has also seen producers switch between the companies like Babich moving from PLB to Walker & Wodehouse.

Saunders stressed that whilst each of the company's will operate separately they will all be able to use the central services covering logistics, operations, HR, PR and marketing.

To help bring the company together Bibendum has been able to acquire the building next door to its Primrose Hill head office and the PLB team will be moving to north London so that all the business is under one roof.

Saunders admitted he has been surprised by the pace the two companies have come together. But he has no doubts that it was the right decision to make and fears what might have been if the two had not found a way to join up in what is an increasingly "difficult and hard market".

"I never thought I would be sitting here after doing such an acquisition. I always thought our growth would come organically. I have learnt an enormous amount over the last six to nine months.

"But I am in no doubt that we have done something very good here and we are incredibly well positioned to benefit from the changes that are taking place in the UK."

Saunders added: "We have found more benefits of coming together than we had even anticipated."

But he stressed it was under no illusion of how hard the market is going to be going forward. "You only need to look at the number of leaders in the industry that have lost their jobs in the last year. That is not the sign of a healthy industry so it is going to be an incredibly challenging, but exciting time."

"But what we have achieved already in the last four months has been incredible, but we could not have done it without the support of our suppliers and customers."

He added: "But I also look back and think about what it would have been like if we had not done the deal to come together and where Bibendum and PLB would have been then."

John Osborne, heads of PLB, was also in ProWein to lead PLB's business at the show, which was primarily to have on going conversations with its major UK customers at the fair.

He described the last year as "a bit of an emotional rollercoaster". "But I have no doubt it was the right decision. It has put us on a more sustainable base and we now have a phenomenal portfolio of wines to work with.

He said the show was also a good time for him and his team to catch up with its suppliers and producers and he admitted there had been some "element of confusion" about what the deal meant for them. "But our suppliers are now over the moon about the reach this now gives them to all channels of the UK on and off-trade," explained Osborne.

"They can now play in all parts of the UK and not just one part," he added.

Saunders also said ProWein had been a great opportunity to put some more weight behind its European business and look at how it can develop its business serving retailers and the on-trade across Europe. "We have had to focus on internal issues in recent years but we now have a chance to grow the European side," he added.

It also opened up opportunities for PLB, stressed Osborne, to work with retailer in Europe.