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Spotlight on 2020: Alex Hunt MW, Berkmann Wine Cellars

Published:  16 December, 2019

As we enter a new decade, Harpers look back over 2019 and ahead to what the coming year will bring – hopefully full of revived optimism for both politics and the trade.

Here, we continue our winter series of reflections, predictions and views with Alex Hunt MW, purchasing director, Berkmann Wine Cellars

1. What were the highs and lows for you and your business in 2019?

The main high for us is achieving 7% turnover growth despite the tough trading conditions, especially because we have maintained our focus on quality and service to attain this growth, when we see many of our competitors continuing to down-trade on price. We were also overjoyed at the successful launch of several iconic producers within the portfolio this year, including Château Minuty, Ca’ del Bosco, Umani Ronchi and Yarra Yering.

The lows mainly revolve, of course, around Brexit. The amount of time and money we have ploughed into preparing for something that still hasn’t happened amounts to a huge distraction and waste of resources.

2. What were the most significant issues and trends that occurred in 2019?

Brexit is the natural subject to focus on, especially with the direct effect that economic uncertainty has on discretionary spending – including eating in restaurants. But in the broader context the climate conditions for our producers across the world are a concern especially in regions where we see prolonged drought or bushfires becoming the new norm. Whilst this doesn’t have any immediate impact on the trading conditions, we are glad to see consumers become more conscious of this and asking more questions about the sustainability of the wines they are buying, which is why we have published a sustainability review of our producers in our Green Harvest report. The low and no trend is a discussion point, but we are not seeing great demand for it in the on-trade for wine. The appetite from consumers appears to be far more focused on beer and spirits, which is entirely justified since wine lends itself so badly to major tinkering with alcohol balance.

3. What Brexit outcome would you prefer to see?

At this point we’d settle, with varying degrees of misgivings, for anything but a no-deal.

4. What trends do you predict for 2020?

We have invested recently in developing our Eastern Mediterranean range and have found great interest in these styles of wines, especially the ones coming from regions that focus on indigenous varieties and ancient winemaking methods. We therefore expect to see that trend continue, along with the rapidly growing interest in Portugal. Premium rosé wines have also continued to grow for us and become an increasing focus of our portfolio, and not just in Provence: Antinori’s new Calafuria rosato from Puglia has been a smash hit this year, and has great potential to grow in 2020.

5. What are likely to be the biggest opportunities for the trade in 2020?

Consumption is falling and people are trading up. They expect a memorable experience in return. So the trade needs to engage its imagination, dial up its discernment and deliver excellence rather than obsessing over price.

6. What are the biggest challenges facing the trade in 2020?

Apart from economic uncertainty there is the challenge of beer and spirits taking the drinking occasion away from wine. There has been some fantastic innovation in both those categories whilst wine can struggle to achieve the same cut-through. Our marketing team is focusing more on how to deliver the brand experiences for our wine customers that are equivalent to spirits to counter this.

7. Who are the people, companies or retailers to watch in 2020?

Berkmann! We think we are the distributor leading the way in how to run a successful, independent wine business of scale that is both quality-minded and profitable. In the retail environment we are watching the rejuvenation of independent wine shops with interest. Given most supermarkets are restricting their ranges and the high street is offering a limited choice for their customers the independent shops have a real chance to offer something unique for wine lovers.

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

The optimal balance of music, roast potatoes, amusing relatives, fortified wine, cold sunny weather, and sleep.

9. New Year’s resolution?

Fitter, happier, more productive.