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‘Diversity and flexibility’ may replace specialism longer term

Published:  28 May, 2020

Such has been the upheaval wrought by the Covid pandemic that drinks businesses may have to remain agile in the longer term to meet a changed consumer landscape, with the days of specialism in one route or approach to market numbered.

That was the collective prediction of the panel at Harpers recent technology webinar, Streamlining the Future, in partnership with drinks industry software solution company Bevica, where it was highlighted that the pandemic “had forced the trade to look at new ways of doing things”, with likely long-term consequences, and a need to act now if your systems are not up to meeting the 'new norm'. 

Although the thrust of the discussion centred on the need to implement flexible and integrated technology to meet the challenges ahead, the points thrown up shed light on changes in the broader drinks landscape.

“There's always a tendency in companies to become more and more specialist, to build these little silos, in an incredibly crowded market place,” said David Gleave MW, managing director of Liberty Wines.

“But it’s interesting looking ahead, at the diversity and flexibility, with people obviously having to flip business models around and over to direct to consumer, shifting lost on-trade and wholesaler sales towards the off trade and merchants, where sales have been growing… it’s forced us to focus on doing things differently.”

This, in turn, along with the acceleration of the trend to ecommerce and virtual engagement, is resetting consumer expectation while also ‘training’ people to do and expect to do things differently, which Gleave and others predicted would continue after the current crisis ebbed.

“Embracing the technology we are being forced to use now presents some really interesting opportunities,” said Jason Haynes, MD at Flint Wines.

“We're all learning to adapt and some things will work, some things won't. But I think just because something has worked for 20 years doesn't mean it was the best way to do things - being open to new ideas is [essential] in what is probably going to be quite a different landscape.”

Part of this different landscape will be consumers that have grown used to much greater flexibility (despite lockdown restrictions) in terms of how, when and from whom they can purchase drinks.

Meanwhile, agreed the panel, for all navigating through what most are predicting to be a very harsh recession, the quality of service delivered to customers will become paramount in retaining and (re)building business.

Doug Wood, owner of WoodWinters, said that technology would play a crucial part in that, with the right systems key in enabling staff to be freed up to deliver the best service possible for accounts and their consumers.

“On old disjointed systems, where there is much room for human input error, it usually requires about five to 10 times the amount effort to put it right when something goes wrong,” said Wood.

The ability to integrate from order to stock and accounts to dispatch and delivery, with the possibility of allowing customers to track the whole process on an app, also allow for flexibility and transparency.

“The efficiency of a smooth operation is essential to running a good business,” said Wood.

Gleave added: “I’ve said this before, we're not a wine company, we're a logistics company that moves wine. There’s no use having some of the best wines if you can't get them to your customers when they want them and where they're supposed to be.”

And, as Bevica's Claudio Martell pointed out: "I think consumers are changing the way that they’re thinking about buying wine, so even though people will end up again going back to restaurants, the online sales channels are key and that will remain.”

“With the new ways of working that we have, I think people have had to stop and really think about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and where you can save time, from a systems point of view."