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Looking ahead: Andrew Johnson, Woodwinters

Published:  13 December, 2018

Tumultuous political times are offering an interesting backdrop to our latest Looking Ahead series.

Not to be perturbed by the toing and froing of Downing Street, we will once again be catching up with the trade over the next few weeks to find out how businesses are making the most of the all-important Christmas trading period, while also looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities 2019 will bring.

We kick off our series with insights from Andrew Johnson, managing director at fine wine and Scottish whisky reseller Woodwinters.

Would you say that the trade is in a stronger or weaker place now than at the same time last year, and why?

Market conditions have definitely been a challenge. Political issues around Brexit have had an absolute effect on trade. Restaurants, especially, have seen both staffing costs go up due to a dip in young European staff coming to the UK. This has made many restaurants consider consolidating the supply chain both with food and wine.

What were the highs and lows for your own business in 2018?

Growing the business during difficult conditions has been a huge source of pride. This has been done mostly through building our portfolio and offering a number of unique wines to the UK market. There genuinely haven’t been any real lows apart from the tough market conditions and the rate and the speed at which we have started trading with new accounts.

What were the most significant trends in the drinks world that occurred in 2018?

For us in the fine wine market, premium South African wines have been a real area of importance and we have spent a lot of time trying to source some of the new stars from this dynamic category.

What drinks trends do you predict will emerge or become more firmly established in 2019?

There are signs that new wave wines from Chile, especially Itata may finally break through. While Gin may certainly have peaked, boutique spirits companies look strong with large increases expected for Rum, Tequila and Mescal. California looks like it might have another resurgence, along with Oregon and new waves wines from South Australia.

What are likely to be the biggest opportunities for the trade in 2019?

Ensuring you have a unique proposition in terms of portfolio. Many of the more generic importers are embroiled in massive price wars, leading to a race to the bottom, therefore it is important to have wines that are bough on quality not on price.

What will be the biggest challenges facing the trade in 2019?

Obviously we all await the final outcome on Brexit and the implications that may have. Other that that we have seen a down turn on restaurant trade, especially lunch time, so we are hoping dinners will return during 2019.

Who are the people, companies or sectors to watch in 2019?

I believe 2019 will see the smaller boutique importers take a larger slice of the pie, as restaurants and retailers become more adventurous and look for more off the beaten track wines from specialists.

What, for you, would make for a perfect Christmas?

The perfect Christmas would be for records sales being delivered correctly and on time by our distribution partners. Christmas is always a challenge.