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Looking ahead: Mark Roberts, Lanchester Wines

Published:  14 August, 2018

As the first half of 2018 draws to a close, Harpers asked key trade figures to highlight the current challenges, on-going trends and opportunities

We continue our series with insights from Mark Roberts, head of sales, Lanchester Wines

How has the first half of 2018 compared to 2017?

Any successful business operating must continually evaluate, learn and adapt, and at the beginning of 2017 we were continuing through a transition phase inwardly investing in our people, our portfolio and our property.

The start of 2018 has certainly seen us reap the benefit of these investments: we recruited strategically and these appointments are now fully operational; we now have a fuller, more relevant portfolio including additional premium and old world ranges; and we’ve consolidated our buying team increasing efficiencies.

We’ve also invested heavily in our North East headquarters and four warehouses which have benefitted from over £8 million investment in renewable heat and energy generation which not only massively reduces ours, and our customers, carbon footprint but also reduces overheads.

We are performing well within a very competitive environment and these have been conscious and considered changes to our operation.

What, currently, are the biggest challenges for the trade (excluding Brexit)?

The biggest challenge for any business is making sure we truly understand what the consumer really wants. B2B businesses rarely deal with consumers directly, so it’s vital we build two-way dialogue with our customers to understand what products their customers are purchasing and requesting. And, it’s always vital we look to the future in order to develop the products our customers’ customers will want in six to twelve months’ time.

As with many other suppliers in the trade, we continuously track emerging trends and consumer insights - both within the wine sector and through general lifestyle choices including food trends, interior designs and health – to truly get under the skin of the person who will be buying our wines.

There’s no point in investing heavily in a new product which may look great on the shelf or bar, but just isn’t want the consumer wants. And, likewise - a wine could have all the medals in the world, but if it’s not what the consumer wants then we need to question if it’s a wine we should be selling.

What outcome would you like to see from Brexit and why?

I’d like to see a quick outcome from Brexit as it’s this lack of certainty, which is causing trouble for business – we simply can’t plan for the unknown. Aside from potential upcoming tariffs, the obvious present impact of Brexit is FX, which is affecting day-to-day operation, not just for us and the entire wine trade, but for every business dealing internationally.

What’s your strategy for the second half of the year, through autumn and leading up to the Christmas trading period?

The continuation of our steady growth across all channels is our core focus through fully utilising our now robust sales and commercial team. We’re also looking to finalise our premium old world portfolio and further ongoing development of customer partnership, which focus on both wine and sustainability.

What will be your main focus during this time?

Aside from the aforementioned continuation of sustainable growth across all channels, we have a particular focus on export via our newly restructured export division. Lanchester Wines has experience exporting to every continent and we’re building on this knowledge to drive further sales overseas.

Are there any specific challenges that you’re planning for?

Our biggest challenge is obviously wine supply and bulk demand caused by the culmination of poor vintages, greater demand for bulk wine in other markets and uncertainty on currency, which is intrinsically linked to Brexit.

While each of these factors are out of our control, we continue to put measures in place to protect ourselves and our customers, including sourcing from alternative countries – for example, three years ago we moved to Moldovan Pinot Grigio, sales of which continue to soar due to the excellent quality and highly competitive pricing.

Any specific trends you anticipate?

Based on our strategy for the second half of the year, we’re looking at how we can influence the wine market with our sustainability message. We’ve spent the last six years focusing on how we can minimise our use of fossil fuels through generation of our own renewable wind and solar energy, and renewable heating through air and water. Sustainability and green thinking is becoming increasingly important for both our customer and supplier, and we are uniquely placed within the wine trade.

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

For us, Lanchester sits and operates within every channel of the UK and export wine market. We see growth across all channels, particularly PubCos, online, gifting and export, but we understand retailers will continue to feel the pressure of pricing. We believe there’ll be yet more consolidation of range and offering in the retail market.

How optimistic are you – will business for the drinks trade be better or worse between now and 1 Jan 2019 compared with last year and why?

I’m hopeful that by the end of the year, the wine trade as a whole will be in a better place to move forward. However, we foresee yet more mergers, buy ups, fall outs and consolidation of companies. Saying that, a lot of lessons have been learned this year about how to structure sustainable deals within the wine business while still being able to offer up quality and consistency on wine.