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Bouncing Back Q&A: Caroline Thompson-Hill, MD for Europe, Accolade Wines

Published:  20 December, 2021

Continuing our seasonal Bouncing Back Q&A series, Caroline Thompson-Hill takes stock of the lessons of 2021 and calls out the challenge posed to trade by the proposed alcohol duty reforms.

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

Like many within the industry, we have had to adapt our working practices in the past year and there have been some impacts on our usual supply chain processes, such as with the domestic truck driver shortage. Our manufacturing team at The Park have worked tirelessly during a challenging year to alleviate disruption for our end customers to deliver very high levels of service to our customers, and we’ll continue to build on this in 2022 and beyond.

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?

A combination of global shipping and domestic truck driver issues have impacted our usual supply chain processes, and we’ve been working hard internally and closely with transport suppliers and our customers to find solutions. We welcome efforts by the UK Government to ease global freight issues for UK businesses.

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

Innovation is key, especially within the wine category. This isn’t new but has been reaffirmed in the past 18 months. Whether enjoying a drink at home, or at your favourite restaurant, bar or pub, consumers are keen to try new brands, new flavours, and new formats, such as bag-in-box and single serve cans. Big brands, such as Hardys and Echo Falls, have also reiterated their true value during the pandemic, giving shoppers the reassurance of great quality, value, and familiarity.

We’re always reviewing our brand portfolios to ensure that we have a strong range that meets consumer demands, engages with new wine drinkers, and can adapt to the changing landscape in the sector.

Has a succession of lockdowns fundamentally altered consumer behaviour?

Lockdown understandably saw more everyday drinking occasions shift into our homes and this has continued in recent months with some people seeing a more permanent shift towards working from home and flexible working.

We’ve also seen an increase in mindful drinking, both from a health perspective with an increase in demand for low & no ABV offerings, as well as sustainability, with consumers looking for products which have less of an impact on our planet. We have expanded our low & no options in the past year, including a brand refresh for Echo Falls Fruit Fusions, and we have exciting NPD to come in this area for Hardys, so keep an eye out for that!

From an on-trade perspective, customers were keen to return to the on-trade after being homebound for months. Therefore, it was important to make the pub and bar experience as memorable as possible and we’ve worked with our partners to help amplify our brands, as well as giving outlets the confidence to recommend different wines alongside food.

Are you happy with the budget announcements made in the autumn?

Accolade Wines continues to engage constructively and partner closely with the UK Government on a range of industry matters. The alcohol duty reforms were intended to make for a simpler, fairer system of tax on wine, but the proposed changes would mean many wine drinkers will pay substantially more when they enjoy a glass of wine at home, at the local pub or at their favourite restaurant. Not only will consumers pay more tax, these proposals will pose a challenge to the economic recovery of the alcohol and hospitality sectors.

What are your priorities and predictions for 2022?

We’re working strategically to look at future trends and growth areas to ensure the wine category doesn’t get left behind and we continue to be more relevant to more occasions. We’ve seen phenomenal success with our Jam Shed brand in the last couple of years, which has been driven on fresh and innovative branding.

We expect bag-in-box options to become more widely available and grow in popularity in 2022. They provide a great solution for consumers who are hosting friends and want to make it easier to purchase and serve larger volumes, whilst the long life is ideal for those mid-week single glass occasions.

Premiumisation within the category will continue as consumers became more engaged and explored more wines during lockdown. This is driven by shoppers wanting to treat themselves, but also fits well with moderation, where consumers drink less but better products.

Earlier this year we also acquired Lambrini, the UK’s number one brand of perry. Lambrini has such a strong heritage, and we have some exciting plans lined up for 2022 to support growth.

Quickfire questions:

Red, white, or rosé?

Red! One of my absolute favourites is Grant Burge Holy Trinity GSM or anything with Grenache is usually a winner.

Film or book?

Book – I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Champagne or English sparkling?

Tasmanian sparkling all the way.

European city break, or UK staycation?

UK staycation, by the beach.

Favourite part of the year?

Spring – it’s fantastic to see the UK’s parks, gardens and woodland come back to life after winter.