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LWF: Beale describes path forward post UK 2020 ‘trade nadir’

Published:  17 May, 2021

The UK market remains an “attractive and diverse market place, but it is a very different one to the market it was 12 months ago”, according to Miles Beale, CEO of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA).

Delivering the opening briefing at the virtual 2021 London Wine Fair (LWF), Wine Trading 2021: "Where are we?”, Beale outlined how the UK trade would need to continue to innovate and adapt to meet the challenges of this altered and still changing landscape post Covid and Brexit.

“We have to start doing business differently. Consumers are behaving differently because of Covid, but trade is different because of Brexit,” he said.

“We have a sort of trade environment nadir right at this moment, I hope it will become easier to do business with non-European countries, and not too much harder with the EU.”

Beale outlined many of the obstacles facing the trade, not least additional paperwork and costs of importing wine from the EU and the related challenges to groupage, plus the still looming spectre of VI-1 forms.

More positively, he also described a slow but potentially fruitful future path towards more frictionless trade with non-EU countries, but urged government to “come to its senses” and win both economic and political points by helping avoid increased prices for wine that would inevitably be born by consumers.

“There are still some things coming down the line, but we really need to get away from these warlike scenarios and we need to get back around the table,” he implored.

One of those messages that needed to be heard was that suppliers had not been receiving the same levels of support as those they supply.

This included “no business rates holidays, no access to government grants for suppliers – they’ve had to rely on government-backed loans which, of course, have to be paid back at some point”.

The trade also needed to redouble its efforts to speak with one collective voice, “which hasn’t been as unified, or as loud, or indeed been heard in recent years”, when set against the “collective storms” of Brexit and Covid.

With regard to Brexit, Beale clearly reiterated the UK trade’s biggest disappointment – namely that the UK government has voluntarily imposed extra red tape and barriers to trade that it claimed Brexit was designed to escape.

The significance of the LWF opening on the first day of indoor reopening for on-trade in England, Scotland and Wales was not lost on Beale and the 150+ attendees that tuned in.

Difficult though it may be, the WSTA line was that UK drinks companies should look beyond the short-term challenges to plan for this altered future.

Big changes, already well documented, included the acceleration to online and ecommerce, plus the dangers of an omni-channel approach to trade, “putting all your eggs in one basket”, which was cruelly exposed for some by Covid restrictions closing down entire channels such as the on-trade.

Independent merchants and those relying on smaller shipments of mixed pallets were also finding that so-called “teething difficulties” post-Brexit were set to stay for some time, with the additional friction on trade making groupage prohibitive for many, threatening diversity.

In response to a question on that from Harpers, Beale said: “We’re already getting the sense that business models will have to change – it’s not what we want, but it is, I think, a fact.”

Beale is to be joined by prominent members of the trade to discuss their experiences relating to the above in a follow up briefing, Wine Trading 2021: "Are we there yet?”, which will be live-streamed at 10am tomorrow (Tuesday 18 May).