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Looking ahead: Mark Roberts, Lanchester Wines

Published:  03 September, 2019

As the first half of 2019 draws to a close, Harpers asked key trade figures to highlight the current challenges, ongoing trends and opportunities

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

How has the first half of 2019 been when compared to the same period in 2018?

In a word, positive. Obviously, we’ve had the overlaying uncertainty of Brexit for longer than we’d all expected but, as a business, we remain focussed on our long term goals. Because we’re part of a group of companies (under the Cleary family-owned Lanchester Group), we’re fortunate in that we have diversification. From wine, to contract bottling, to luxury hampers, confectionery, pet gifts, energy and property, the markets in which we operate are vast and varied with each business supporting the others. The diversity of our businesses is intentional and ensures both our strength and our longevity.

What were the highs and lows for your own business in the first six months of 2019?

Our main high this year is undoubtedly seeing the rewards from our ongoing investment in business sustainability. Firstly, through team development resulting in fully operational national, regional and international teams which in turn releases us to be increasingly strategic and focus on the wider goals of the business.

Secondly our investment in renewable heat and energy generation which not only greatly reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, but also ensures we are doing our part in working towards a cleaner, greener future.

As a business, we continue to make choices about our long-term sustainability affecting not just today’s operations, but those of our future. We’re an ambitious business, continuously growing and we’ve already implemented measures to ensure our renewable energy generation covers the next stage of our expansion.

However, with all highs come lows and ours will now doubt be the same as most other independent wine companies – and indeed many businesses across all sectors in the UK – with regards to the effects of the uncertain UK political status: currencies, export, supply chain.

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

Undoubtedly the biggest challenges for the UK wine trade at present are again aligned with Brexit – maintaining continuity of business and ensuring customer confidence.

Will you be preparing in any way for a second potential ‘no deal’ or some deal Brexit day on 31 October and, if so, how?

As our country’s position on Brexit changes daily it’s impossible to predict how it’ll affect any business, let alone ours. We’ve already seen the pound drop and price of imports increase but we’re more prepared than most thanks to our fully-owned 920,000 ft2 bonded warehouse which allows us to hold a healthy amount of stock. We’re the closest business of our kind to UK sea ports and we work closely with both Port of Tyne and Teesport.

We’ve also been recognised by Government as Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) for imports and exports. AEO status is an internationally recognised quality mark that shows our role in the international supply chain is secure and that customs controls and procedures meet strict EU standards. This gives our business quicker access to some simplified customs procedures and, in some cases, the right to ‘fast-track’ shipments through some customs and safety and security procedures.

And, we continue to invest. Both in technologies such as our sister company Greencroft Bottling’s wine canning line, ongoing updates to our stock management systems and diversification of our business – we recently announced the acquisition of HF Chocolates to sit with our luxury confectionery business Bon Bon’s (Wholesale) Ltd which vertically integrates within Lanchester Gifts, which itself has grown to become the UK’s second largest hamper business.

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

As with other wine companies, we’ve increased our stock holding to mitigate any immediate issues when changes come into force. However, we have the huge advantage of owning our own bonded warehouses – nearly one million square feet.

What will the focus be on with regard to your portfolio and why?

Our focus for 2020 and beyond will be centred around sustainability – both environmental and of our business. Our buying team’s recently returned from South America buying trip where we’ve aligned with additional sustainable wineries. We’ve also worked closely with all our current suppliers to make sure their sustainability message is aligned with ours and we believe this will add another level of future-proofing within the wine sector

What innovations in the drinks world do you believe will have the most impact going forward?

Formats is where we’ll see major changes in consumables across the board, largely driven by two factors – sustainability and convenience. We’ve already seen a resurgence in bag-in-box led by innovative design and more premium wine and cans which both offer circular recycling opportunities however, sales are also driven by an increase in single person households where the single serve wine can, or longevity of bag-in-box juice can avoid food waste.