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Looking ahead to the Xmas run up: Nik Darlington, MD, Red Squirrel Wine

Published:  17 August, 2017

With the autumn tasting season soon upon us, as the trade prepares for the run up to the all-important Christmas trading period, Harpers is running a web series asking leading voices in the trade what trends and challenges they’re expecting to face in the latter half of 2017.

We continue our series with Nik Darlington, managing director and founder, Red Squirrel Wine.


How has the first half of 2017 been compared to the same period in 2016?

Red Squirrel is 64 per cent up on value and 49 per cent up on volume year-on-year, so amidst what’s generally perceived as a challenging economic climate I’m very pleased with how we’ve fared. We’re still enjoying ourselves and having a lot of fun, so that counts for a lot and hopefully that comes across.


What, currently, are the biggest challenges for the trade?

Staying positive. Yes there are dark clouds everywhere you look, but new openings in the indie sector and among the on-trade continue apace, London is no longer the overwhelming epicentre, with genuinely exciting activity all around the UK, and punters still want to buy and drink good, authentic wines.


Taking current trading conditions into account, what’s your strategy for the meeting those challenges during the second half of the year, through autumn and leading up to the crucial Christmas trading period?

Staying true to what we do, which is pretty simple: find wines we love, talk the hind legs off them and find like-minded people in the trade who want to tell those stories too. On a more material front, we’ve beefed up our entry-level offering with wines we’ve made and designed ourselves from France and South Africa, as well as invested in wine-on-tap, to give us a more rounded offering.


And where do the opportunities lie?

Premium, alternative wines, as well as wine-on-tap.


Specifically, what will the focus be on with regard to your portfolio?

We rarely focus on one area or style at a time, because we’d rather go where our noses take us, but of late we’ve been looking at entry level, and our buyer Rob Woodhead has put a heroic amount of work into building up a competitive and sizeable wine-on-tap offering to on-trade clients.


Any trends that you anticipate?

Did I say wine-on-tap….?!


Which channels are likely to perform best and which be under the greatest stress and why?

I think indies with a genuinely bespoke, unique offering in the right area will continue to buck the trend and thrive; while on a more country-wide basis I see lots of opportunities in the on-trade.


How optimistic are you – will business for the drinks trade be better or worse between now and 1 Jan 2018 compared with last year and why?

I remain very optimistic, but admit I’m coming from a very particular viewpoint. Red Squirrel is still a very small importer and we’re growing at a good rate. I think the trade in general is set for a good second half of the year, especially if we can get a bit more political certainty on a number of matters, but given how unpredictable life has been of late then I’m not making many bets for what life will be like in the first half of 2018.