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Looking ahead: Caroline Thompson-Hill, Accolade Wines

Published:  29 July, 2022

With the first half of 2022 already history, Harpers asked key trade figures to highlight the current challenges, ongoing trends and opportunities. 

We continue our series with insights from Caroline Thompson-Hill, regional managing director for Europe at Accolade Wines

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

It’s been a turbulent couple of years, and the new normal is that there is no such thing as normal! I love the saying that life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass – it’s about learning how to dance in the rain. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing at Accolade with our incredible innovation pipeline and sustainability efforts.

Our focus is on looking at future trends and growth areas to ensure the wine category doesn’t get left behind, and we need to continue to do this regardless of what our new normal throws at us. 

How, if at all, have drinking habits changed post-lockdown?

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. While on-trade sales are now back to pre-pandemic sales, this has been mainly driven by spirits. Wine is still catching up, which may be because wine sales in this channel, predominantly in restaurants, are driven by older consumers. This group has been more cautious to return to out-of-home experiences and may have continued with in-home drinking habits started in lockdown. We also do expect the cost-of-living crisis to impact the recovery of the on-trade in the months ahead. 

Another major shift of the last two years is that consumers have become more aware of the need to make sustainable choices, including the food and drink they consume. This has been driven by lifestyle changes during lockdowns, as well as increased media coverage of the climate crisis. This heightened consumer interest and awareness is making me excited about Accolade’s introduction of Wise Wolf – our new brand bottled in 100% post-consumer recycled glass. 

There is also the long-term trend to moderation with personal health remaining as a strong motivating factor post-lockdown. No and low alcohol options have vastly improved, both in the range of products available and in the quality, but wine has fallen behind compared to beer and spirits – often suffering from negative taste perceptions. The launch of &Then and Hardys Zero is set to change that. The introduction of these product lines will give people who are moderating their alcohol a selection of truly high-quality zero-alcohol alternatives that showcase the flavours and characters of full-strength wine.

How has the first half of 2022 been when compared to the same period in pre-pandemic 2019?

I only joined Accolade in the latter part of 2019, so I don’t really have a ‘normal’ period to compare things to. I would say we’re unrecognisable from back then though, with a commitment to being consumer and customer-centric, a reinvigorated culture and new dynamic working policy – plus, a huge focus on innovation and sustainability. 

What were the highs and lows for your own business in the first six months of 2022?

The last six months have been filled with highs and lows. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was without a doubt the lowest ebb of the last six months and continues to cause unimaginable pain and havoc. 

For us at Accolade, the lows have been the macro challenges we’ve all faced – from supply-chain disruption to rampant inflation. Yet, the highs have been about our innovation and brand activation. Our mantra at Accolade is to ‘control the controllables’, and over the course of the last six months we’ve certainly tried to do that. 

One particular high for us this year is the launch of B.Ink, part of Grant Burge Wines. Barossa Ink is already a top performer within the Accolade Wines portfolio since its launch in 2017 and the B.Ink Red Blend is set to complement it; and build on the brand’s success. 

Hardys returned to TV in March as part of a £3m marketing campaign and we expect to bring this back in the year ahead as part of our wider Certainty campaign. This has helped Hardys to grow in the last year and we remain the most frequently purchased wine brand in the UK. We’ve also just released Hardys Zero, a new non-alcoholic range that utilises cutting-edge de-alcoholising technology, as well as Hardys Cans. 

And of course, it’s been exciting putting the fizz back in Lambrini since its acquisition last year, with the tongue in cheek launch of Lamqueeni to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee, as well as invigorating new campaigns with Denise Van Outen.  

What, currently, are the biggest challenges for the trade in general?

Household budgets will be tight for many across the next couple of years so that obviously creates a challenge for a discretionary category like ours, but people will still want to treat themselves, and food and drink can offer affordable luxuries, whether that’s a decadent pudding or a bottle of wine. 

We also have concerns around the UK government’s current proposal to increase taxes on alcohol – and specifically on wine – during a cost-of-living crisis. We’re pleased that the industry has been given the opportunity to consult on the plans further and we’ll continue to work with the WSTA to try and improve the proposal. 

What are your priorities and predictions business-wise for the second half of 2022?

Due to the rising cost of living, we expect shoppers to trade down to cheaper products or to reduce frequency and basket size. On the other side we also expect those shoppers relatively unaffected by financial concerns to continue driving the premium sector.

Whenever budgets are tight, we have to make our brands work hard for shoppers – ensuring they have a clear purpose and add value to the wider category (through either their price point or their innovation). As a major wine supplier, it comes down to ensuring we have the right range that can flex to meet the needs of different occasions and consumers, from entry-level to premium. 

Value for money is much more important than simply lower prices. We have just finalised a significant new piece of shopper segmentation with clear roles for the entire portfolio, from entry-level to premium. Our activities will be built to ensure we’re connecting to the relevant audiences in places and at times that best suit. Big brands like Hardys, Echo Falls and Jam Shed have a role to make the wine category clear and accessible to consumers, as well as offering innovative NPD that is relevant to consumers. 

What will the focus be on with regard to your portfolio and why?

Sustainability continues to be a core focus for us. We boosted our green credentials with the launch of Wise Wolf, an ambitious new wine range that comes in bottles made using 100% post-consumer recycled glass. Not only does the carbon-neutral wine come in a visually distinctive fully recycled and recyclable glass bottle, but the labels are made from 100% recycled paper and the closures are made from 100% recycled plastic. Even the outer cases are made from 100% recycled paper pulp. The total Wise Wolf pack is made from 95.1% recycled materials and can be recycled again. 

For you, what are the most significant emerging trends in the wine & spirits worlds?

Like many regions, demand for no and low alcohol is on the rise in the UK and we expect wine to start catching up with beer and spirits. Zero alcohol wine is in 28.2% YOY value growth (ahead of still wine), now worth over £39m, delivering 0.6% of the total category ( Nielsen Scantrack to 26.02.22).

There is a strong trend to moderation and greater appreciation, with personal health as a strong motivating factor, and this has been accelerated by the impact of Covid. We expect there to be a focus on ‘healthy for me’ through both mental and physical health, and ‘healthy for the planet’ through sustainability as growing priority for consumers. 

What innovations in the drinks world do you believe will have the most impact going forward?

We constantly hear from customers and consumers that the wine category isn’t innovative enough. This is why we’re so focused on insight-led innovation, and our plans in the zero-alcohol space is an example of this focus. The Zero Tech X technology used in &Then and in Hardys Zero is a big step forward for zero-alcohol wine and will allow us to compete with other products both in supermarkets. In the on-trade, we expect the quality of our no and low products to surprise people in the year ahead.

Lastly, if you could make one change in legislation/red tape/tax tomorrow, what would you choose? 

I’d love the opportunity to make more than one, to be honest! But in terms of priorities it would have to be getting to a fair and workable solution to the Alcohol Duty Review.

Quick-fire questions:

Bordeaux or Burgundy? 


Riesling or Chardonnay? 

Riesling. No, Chardonnay. No… definitely Riesling.

USA, OZ or South Africa? 

I’m going to say Australia, but this question is almost impossible for me to answer.

Cocktails or slow sipping spirit? 


English fizz or Champagne? 

English fizz.

Favourite fast/junk food and drink pairing? 

Mac’n’Cheese with an Aussie Grenache.