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Looking ahead: Henry Boyes, Mitchells and Butlers

Published:  04 January, 2019

Once again we are catching up with the trade to find out how businesses made the most of the all-important Christmas trading period, while also looking ahead to the challenges and opportunities 2019 will bring.

Our series continues with insights from Henry Boyes, wine procurement manager, Mitchells and Butlers.

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

I know this is sitting on the fence but I think it is both stronger and weaker. Good European harvests are really encouraging, but the impending impact of Brexit is somewhat nullifying that. There are lots of really exciting products and producers to put in front of consumers, but their confidence has taken such a hit that we need to work harder to engage with them and encourage them to spend.

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

It’s been a very tough year but we are performing really well in a very challenging sector of the market. Drinks performance this year has been superb and although lots of the growth has come from spirits (especially gin) and cocktails, wine is still outperforming the market, which is obviously really pleasing for me and a good place to be.

In terms of lows, the changing shape of wine distribution has thrown up some interesting challenges and the ongoing uncertainty around almost anything related to Brexit has not helped. But we have a very good track record of meeting these kind of issues head on so thankfully there have been far more highs than lows.

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

Conscientious and considered consumption was definitely a hallmark of 2018. This manifested itself in a focus on products that were sustainable, ethical, had reduced abv/sugar/calories and craft or artisan products. We also have seen a continuation in the shift towards drinks premiumisation – guests actively choosing to drink less wine but drink better. This applied to other drinks categories too. Interestingly we also saw the impact of national or global issues having a direct impact on consumer behavior, such as ditching plastic straws in favour of paper ones.

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

More of the same for sure. I would also add in an even greater importance of vegan and vegetarian products - veganism is no longer just a small trend, but it is becoming a more mainstream lifestyle choice - and a growing interest in the high street on wines that are natural or biodynamic. These will be coming from a smaller base but will be interesting to watch nonetheless. I also expect rosé to be one of the buzz wine products of 2019 and whilst not limited to wines from Provence, I definitely feel that paler styles of rosé will be one of the drinks of the summer. I also expect to see more product penetration across wine in cans. These are exciting areas of focus for us.

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

Other than pale rosé and wine in cans, I would suggest that there will be continued desire for really good quality no/low alcohol products as well as those products that are quite well distributed in the independent sector but less so in the mainstream, such as natural wines and orange wines. Given all of the points above, I would expect wines that are high in quality in every way - liquid, packaging, production, etc - to represent good opportunities next year.

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

Brexit. Plain and simple. The impact it could have on consumer confidence, supply chain and stock logistics, product availability and even the types of drinks that guests will choose to drink could all be massive. All businesses could face some very difficult times let alone those that have not already made plans to mitigate some of these challenges.

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

Us, obviously, but beyond that I would say dynamic producers of pale rosé, businesses that offer something new and exciting and those people or businesses that can effectively engage with consumers that have been left to drift to other drinks categories for too long.

What, for you, makes for a perfect Christmas?

Decent wines, delicious food, relaxing time with loved ones, some peace in the world… and Liverpool still top of the table!