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Bouncing Back Q&A: Ben Knollys, MD, Hatch Mansfield

Published:  16 December, 2021

Continuing our seasonal Bouncing Back Q&A series, Ben Knollys takes stock of the challenges and lessons of 2021 and considers the path ahead for the trade.

The beginning of January marked the end of the Brexit transition period – how well has your company adapted to this new normal?

There is no doubt that the end of the Brexit transition period has created added complexities for any business involved in import and export. In the build up to the transition Hatch Mansfield worked closely with their EU suppliers and UK customers to ensure all stakeholders understood the implications. Communication and planning have been key in the process.

The WTSA contacted the government in November, outlining suggestions to help solve the current transport crisis. What measures have you put in place to cope with the inevitable delays and disruption?

We have been working with all parties involved in the supply chain to monitor and manage to the best of everyone’s abilities. Building extended lead times into forecasting is just one example of something we have had to put in place.

What is the most important business lesson you've learnt during the pandemic?

Communicate and keep communicating – people are at the heart of what we do, whether it be our producers, our team or our customers; keeping them informed throughout the pandemic has enabled them to plan ahead, feel reassured about what is happening and therefore far less fearful of the future during such uncertain times.

Has a succession of lockdowns fundamentally altered consumer behaviour?

Online sales were already growing, but not surprisingly the exponential growth in home delivery, driven by lockdowns, has changed some consumers’ buying habits forever, enabling businesses with a good online platform to engage the consumer on wine in a way that is not always possible in traditional bricks and mortar. Added to which there has been a marked move towards strong brands where people have looked for reassurance in their purchase and a move to more premium wines as consumers have traded up in home dining for a better quality experience.

Do you feel that this government is on the side of business? Are you happy with the budget announcements made in the autumn?

I will feel that the government is on the side of business if they take the very real and valid concerns of the UK wine trade seriously regarding the enormous extra burden that the sliding scale of duty places on wine compared to most other alcoholic drinks where the abv is controllable. On the face of it they haven’t thought it through, so hopefully the consultation period will provide a workable solution for every business that sells wine.

What are your priorities and predictions for 2022?

With so many logistical challenges facing the trade, our first priority will be to continue to focus on getting the basics right for our customers, ensuring they can delight consumers with the wines from our portfolio that they know and love. Looking into the crystal ball for 2022, we’d all love to see fewer surprises and a lot more stability but we’re braced and ready for whatever comes around the corner.

Can the digital revolution help the trade engage with consumers in a way that would have been impossible 30 years ago?

Undoubtedly so. Developments in digital mean more ways to tell the stories behind the wines and to react in quicker, more tailored ways than ever before. Online sales are a big part of how so many of our customers operate and digital marketing has been a big part of our activity for brands including Villa Maria, Cune, Errazuriz, Taittinger. Having the ability to see what is working and to dial things up and down in real time would have been unthinkable even 10 years ago so this is a real benefit for us and our consumers.

Quickfire questions:

Red, white or rose? Red

Film or book? Book

Champagne or English sparkling? Both!

European city break, or UK staycation? European City Break