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Bouncing Back Q&A: Andrew Bewes, Hallgarten Wines

Published:  09 August, 2021

It’s been a one-of-a-kind 18 months for the trade. Here, as we begin to push into the second half of the second year of the pandemic, Harpers is catching up with businesses to find out how they’re focusing on recovering from the shock, and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead.

We continue our series with views from Andrew Bewes, MD, Hallgarten Wines.


How ‘back to normal’ are you as a business?

It is clear there is a huge appetite from the UK consumer to get back out and enjoy life once again and the last two months have been busier than the same period in 2019 so, from this perspective, it feels that we are very much back to normal. Our team is largely back to working 100%, we have just recruited three people to our customer services team to help with demand and have started to recruit additional team members to other parts of the business. 

However, this rapid return of business has come at a cost, and we have not been immune to the much-publicised logistics issues which the entire industry continues to face. A doubling of shipping lead-times, increased red tape, a national shortage of HGV drivers and a chronic lack of warehouse labour have combined to put unprecedented pressure on our stock and fulfilment services. Things are improving on all fronts but given the immediate demand it will be some weeks before we feel that we are back to normal.

What are your priorities and predictions for the second half of 2021?

The last 18 months have, in large parts, been a case of steadying the ship and ensuring our teams are available to service our customers across all sectors. In this second half of the year we have already seen trade dramatically improve and we look forward to being able to nurture and support this growth. Next month we are hosting our first trade tastings since February 2020, as we take over 100 wines to Glasgow, Manchester, Cambridge and London. We will also be hosting more bespoke wine-focused events for our customers and are continuing to bring in new wines to help grow our customers’ businesses. We are quietly confident that the next few months are going to be a significant steppingstone in the country’s return to ‘normality’.

On the people side, we have already started to recruit and have also beginning a trial of hybrid working allowing our officed-based team to work from home for two days a week. This flexibility reflects the results of a recent staff survey in which many expressed the desire to better balance their working lives and to drive improved efficiencies into their working week.

What kind of Christmas are you anticipating and how are you prepping?

We, and more importantly, our customer-base desperately need a vibrant Christmas. Although these initial last few weeks of trading since restaurants started reopening has been nothing short of spectacular, we are mindful that the combination of a lack of foreign tourism and of office workers is still dramatically affecting city centres, most notably London. Recent Government moves to try to better encourage tourists back to the UK are welcome, but only time will tell if numbers will return in earnest this side of 2022. Similarly, much of the business world is grappling with the ongoing ‘issue’ of if, and when, to demand that their workforce once again return to their offices. It may be that office life never returns to pre-pandemic norms, and if this is the case city centre hospitality (and their landlords and suppliers) will have to make adjustments.

As for preparation, we are treating this Christmas as we did in 2019 – ensuring we are fully-staffed, fully-stocked and have all hands on deck ready to ensure our customers, and their customers, have a great time.

Do you anticipate making a full recovery from the pandemic? What timeframes are realistic?

June and July numbers would indicate that we will indeed make a full recovery, however, owing to the slow start to the year, we will not fully recover this year. We are confident, however, that 2022 will see us grow from the £53m we enjoyed in 2019. 2020 dipped to £35m, we predict turnover of £45m this year and would expect to hit a minimum of £55m in 2022.

How heavily have you been impacted by staffing issues?

Our priority throughout has been to retain jobs and keep the business going. Thanks to the flexibility of the furlough scheme, we have achieved this goal, so our direct staffing issues are minimal. We are, however, certainly feeling the knock-on effects of the staffing issues being experienced by our customers and our logistics partners. 

Are you anticipating more Covid-related restrictions?

We are a bunch of optimists so of course we are not anticipating any further national lockdowns, or a return to legal restrictions being placed upon the British public. This said, we do anticipate that many will continue to remain cautious when attending offices, restaurants, crowded venues and while using public transport, etc, for at least another 9-12 months and we certainly cannot ignore the effects of the current ‘Pingdemic’ (hopefully partially relieved by the detuning of the Covid-19 App earlier this week). If the past 18 months have proved anything, it is that we will cope with whatever is thrown at us!

How have drinking habits changed post-lockdown?

We have seen a shift in preferences for the UK wine drinker towards experimentation; consumers are actively going out and seeking wines from off the beaten track. This could be down to people having more time on their hands to try alternatives or simply looking to replace ‘holiday wines’ due to their inability to travel. This is also being driven by operators – more and more we are being asked for a wine from a specific country or simply for ‘something interesting’, and less just to fill a space on a wine list with a crowd-pleasing wine.

Lastly, if you could make one change in government tomorrow, what would you choose?

To sort out the plethora of unintended but very real consequences of Brexit. Scrapping VI-1 forms is a big win (congrats to Miles and the WSTA team!), but there is so much more to do to deliver if we are to ever experience the promised frictionless trade and, more pertinently, we desperately need to resolve the mounting crisis of the lack of labour across hospitality, the NHS, the care sector, the transport network and the construction industry.

Quick-fire questions:

France, Spain or Italy?

All three, but if pushed, Italy as we have just introduced some spectacular new Italian wines to our portfolio which are featuring in my personal wine orders.

USA or OZ?

Australia – such a vast array of styles!

Port or Sherry?


English bubbles or Champagne?

English bubbles. There are so many new and exciting English sparkling wine producers to discover and taste.

Go-to drink to watch with the Olympics / tennis / football?

Something cool and crisp from one of Gérard Bertrand’s estates in the south of France.