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Mark Roberts, Lanchester Wines: Back to Business Q&A

Published:  26 August, 2020

As the trade measures up to extraordinary times and looks ahead beyond summer, leading operators take stock of doing business in the new normal.

Mark Roberts, director of sales at Lanchester Wines, continues our series with insights into the reset of purchasing and consumption habits and positive signs of industry bounce back, set against the spectre of Brexit adding to an already bumpy ride.

How is the business performing and what are sales like compared with pre-lockdown?

We’re emerging post-lockdown in a more robust position than many, thanks to the foresight of our founders and owners – Veronica and Tony Cleary – and their continued vision for diversification.

We’re part of a group of companies including Lanchester Wines, Greencroft Bottling and Spicers of Hythe, which span different areas of expertise within the UK wine and gift sectors, and their supporting industries.

We also have a renewable energy business Lanchester Energy, which not only creates renewable energy for our own use but also generates additional income by selling excess power to the National Grid.

This has meant that what we would have lost out on in on-trade business, we’ve compensated with both our off-trade sales and through our other businesses – importantly without detriment to our core Lanchester Wines business. Forecasts are coming in better than we expected, so that is a positive note. We understand it’s a long path to get back to pre-lockdown but we’re seeing very positive signs that the industry is bouncing back.

What are the biggest changes and challenges in adjusting to the ‘new norm’?

They keyword here is ‘new’ – this is unprecedented change for absolutely everyone. The aftermath of lockdown has effectively reset everyone’s way of both purchasing and consuming alcohol – and on a global scale!

This has changed everyone’s way of purchasing and consuming alcohol, most notably adding a physical distance between seller and purchaser, both moving sales to online and through adding social distancing measures in shops or on trade outlets.

We’ve had a project ongoing of the last 12 months looking at how operators, particularly independents or small chains could easily and cost effectively facilitate online ordering and payments. Then, with the advent of Covid we accelerated our development.

Lanchester Wines has 40 years’ experience of working with the trade and have developed in line with customer feedback, creating a service which is both safe and easy to us. We understand staff and customer safety is paramount for all venues. I believe we as an industry have a duty of care to our customers and staff to do we can to negate the worrying prospect of a second wave or regional lockdowns. And, as we do so, such business tools as our app will be absolutely salient.

Have you seen any significant shift in type and price of wines and spirits sold and, if so, what?

We’ve seen the biggest growth across our more premium ranges, including our agency exclusives and Boutique Bulk ranges such as High Side, which is our single estate, high altitude Malbec from Calingasta. This is perhaps a result of increased online wine purchases during lockdown where our customers saw high rates of sales in mixed cases. This has introduced consumers to wines they’ve never tried before, including more premium ranges, which is ultimately a positive for the sector.

Covid-19 has ignited discussions around health, not least the government’s anti-obesity campaign which could see mandatory ‘hidden calorie’ content on alcohol labels and menus in the on-trade. In your view, what would be the impact of this?

At Lanchester Wines we focus on all things sustainable which includes health. As such, we’ve included calorie content on our labels for years, enabling full transparency to the consumer.

The end to the Brexit transition period is just around the corner on 1 January. How have you been preparing during and post-lockdown?

As a business we’re confident which is wholly due to the ongoing and long-term hard work of our team. We operate an HMRC approved Class A First Examination bonded warehouse and are recognised as an Authorised Economic Operator (AEO) for imports and exports.

There’s no doubt the transition will be tough: we’re trying to plan for the unpredictable. The spectre of Brexit and the uncertainty it’s created around the trade and, indeed, business in general, has certainly made trading harder these last couple of years. But, while Brexit and whatever it brings may be out of our control, we have worked hard behind the scenes to bolster our personnel, our buying power and our resources.