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Looking ahead: Miles Beale, WSTA

Published:  20 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 continue our series with insights from Miles Beale, chief executive, Wine & Spirit Trade Association.

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

That’s a hard one to answer. This time last year we were very much in limbo with very little to go on from government on how Brexit would unfold. So much has happened since then yet we are effectively not much better informed – although we are much better prepared. A lot of time and effort has gone into preparing members as best we can for Brexit. Over 2018 the team held two well attended Brexit workshops, gave around 25 presentations and put out dozens of newsletters and email updates keeping members informed and preparing them for every possible outcome. The WSTA will continue to provide its advice through a range of webinars and meetings for members and expanding on its contingency planning work, alongside a vital Westminster campaign to say ‘no’ to a ‘no deal’ Brexit. The trade has proved we are stronger united but it’s now up to government to avoid no deal and find a solution that delivers our industry needs. Its next steps and – crucially – what MP’s do when the government’s proposals come to parliament will determine whether our trade is left weaker by Brexit.

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

Highs: Securing a freeze at the Budget for spirits

Lows: Wine getting a duty rise by inflation at the Budget

Highs: Extending the reach of home grown drinks with export missions taking British gin and English wine to Hong Kong & Tokyo

Low & high: Considering Brexit worse case scenarios & helping members think through practical arrangements for their business to manage a worst case scenario.

Highs: Picking up the gong for Best Conference at the European Association Awards, Insightful Brexit debate at the WSTA Annual Conference, Heatwave resulting in a bumper harvest making 2018 a vintage year for English wine and British gin sales passing the £2 billion mark.       

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

Gin is still winning! There has been a significant increase in the number of British gins available on the UK market with distillers increasing their efforts to export their products into markets overseas. The list of botanicals now being used to craft gins grows ever longer which means there is one out there to suit every palate. On the back of the gin boom UK distilleries are increasingly branching out and diversifying, adding more and more spirits and liqueurs to their portfolios. The WSTA shone a light on our other home-grown spirit products in 2018 helped by the launch of our English and Welsh Whisky trail. Britain’s heatwave paved the way for a bumper harvest for English and Welsh wine helping to put raise the profile of the growing sector at a time when sparkling wine sales continue to grow. And we are also genuinely excited about the work we have done with members on exports and the prospect of some of them breaking into key foreign markets.

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

The WSTA provides members with quarterly volume and value sales but we don’t do predictions as such. We are expecting the emerging home-grown spirit sector to continue to grow on the back of increasing interest in and knowledge about craft and quality. We have seen huge growth in pink, flavoured and liqueur gins in 2018 and we are expecting to see more on our shelves next year. The same can be said for the English wine sector, with more and more land being planted under vine and investment increasing, it will continue to establish itself as a quality award winning sought after drink. If we come out of the EU we may well see a greater variety of new world wines coming to market if government can secure free trade agreements with countries outside the EU. Sales of wines from places like Argentina and Chile are in growth and we expect to see more of this in 2019.

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

That depends significantly on Brexit. If we can reach a deal which allows frictionless trade then we expect to see a number of doors opening for the British drinks exporters. We have already made some headway into key markets like the US, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, but there is a growing thirst for British drinks overseas and huge opportunities if we can introduce products to new markets. We have been calling on Ambassadors and High Commissioners to ‘Serve British’ drinks at receptions and events to ensure the word is spread far and wide that the British drinks cabinet is stocked with some of the world’s highest quality alcohol.

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

The still – very possible - prospect of Brexit chaos bringing ports and borders to a standstill, unnecessary barriers to trade, more restricted consumer choice, increases to alcohol duty and a lack of support from government for our world leading industry.

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

As a membership organisation it’s difficult to answer in regards to people and companies, as we can’t promote one member over another. The sectors to watch in 2019 as we’ve highlighted before English and Welsh whisky and wine, but also wine markets outside the EU, Whisky markets outside the EU. The WSTA is looking to strengthen our bonds with our wine and spirit colleagues overseas to help open up new markets with third countries. We also think the WSTA board is well stock with quality people from all walks of the industry.

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

MPs taking back control of Brexit by the New Year. Including taking ‘no deal’ off the table and putting some credible, deliverable, negotiable options that meet our sector’s concerns onto it. Then our members can end the year more confident, and a glass or two of something nice with my Christmas lunch… after all, I’m a customer too!