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Looking ahead: Andy Wood, Adnams

Published:  15 August, 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 Andy Wood, CEO of Adnams.

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

Hospitality always keeps us on our toes. Changing tastes and rising expectations from customers mean we have to be on our game every day. In our brewing and distilling businesses, it is fair to say the market is still recalibrating as the aftershocks of the pandemic subside. Fortunately, we have a loyal and discerning following of customers who have ensured we have emerged relatively robustly from those darker days. 

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

The switch from on-trade to off-trade was further exacerbated by the events of 2020 and 2021. As mentioned previously the market is recalibrating and we are seeing encouraging signs of recovery in the on-trade. Some behaviours have changed, certainly, in rural and coastal pubs and bars, customers are visiting us earlier, enjoying themselves and then going home earlier. We are not seeing later drinkers return in any great numbers currently so perhaps this is a longer-term trend that has developed. 

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

The East of England was a destination for many who holidayed in the UK during the periods we were out of lockdown. It has therefore cemented itself amongst those who already knew it well and has been added to the repertoires of those who visited for the first time. I am sure other tourist locations would claim similar, but we have a fair claim to being the warmest, driest and sunniest part of the UK. This makes East Anglia a compelling place when added to our wonderful arts and cultural offering and great food and drink, of course including our beers and spirits. That’s a long way to say our comparisons to 2019 are promising but….we have a cost of living crisis and the geo-political situation is very worrying so we will never be complacent or rest on our laurels. 

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

The support of our customers, shareholders, tenants, communities and staff has been amazing and says much about the culture of the company and the way it sees its responsibilities beyond its natural boundaries. I hope it reflects how we responded during the pandemic, the work of the Adnams Community Trust over more than 30 years and the fact that we hold ourselves to our own high standard of being a ‘good company’ every day. 

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

Where do I start? The last thing business like is uncertainty. It worries customers, stalls business investment and can lead to a spiral downwards for the economy as a whole. We are an optimistic and positive business but like everybody else, we face significant headwinds around energy prices, raw material input costs and wider inflation. Just when we thought it was safe to go back in the water after the pandemic we see political instability at home, Russia invading Ukraine and further worries about Taiwan. We navigated the pandemic and we can navigate this situation but whichever way you look at it, consumer confidence is going to be fragile for some time yet. 

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

We need to keep doing what we do well. Brewing great beer, distilling our wonderful spirits and looking after our customers in our beautiful pubs and hotels around East Anglia. For more than 20 years we have been purpose-led and values-driven, long before it was fashionable to say these things. We will continue to make prudent investments in our people and infrastructure to ensure we can fulfil those commitments. 

What will the focus be on with regard to your portfolio (and any updates) and why? 

Ghost Ship 4.5% and its 0.5% variant continues to delight customers, backed up by our Mosaic Pale Ale and Dry Hopped lager. Our Copper House Dry Gin remains a firm favourite and our managed estate with The Swan, Southwold sitting at the pinnacle of that portfolio and all will get much attention this year and beyond. 

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

We predicted the trend toward moderation in alcohol consumption which is why we invested a number of years back in state-of-the-art technology to remove the alcohol from Ghost Ship 4.5%. In a market that has its challenges, the low and no alcohol segment offers much hope and we have a great product that more and more customers are turning to. For me, this is the most significant consumer trend in the market over the last five years and I believe it is set to continue. 

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

Being very parochial, I want to see cask ale recover its position in pubs and bars the length and breadth of the country. Understandably, the pandemic saw reduced demand, lower throughput rates and a reluctance for licensees to stock a live, natural product. It remains a truism that a great pint of Cask Ale, in pristine condition, is a wonderfully satisfying drink and only available in the on-trade. As the on-trade consolidates its recovery it is worth remembering that a great pint of Cask Ale can only be found in a pub, and it can help entice customers out of their homes once again. 

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

It would be to reform the antiquated business rates system that sees pubs, which are largely small and micro businesses unduly penalised. 

Quick-fire questions:

France, Spain or Italy? 

Italy, I love the country and its appreciation of good food. 

USA, OZ or South Africa? 

South Africa, has something for everyone. 

Cocktails or slow sipping spirit? 

Adnams Copper House Dry Gin. 

English fizz or Champagne? 

Adnams English Sparkling  

Go-to drink to watch the tennis / football / rugby? 

If driving, 0.5% Ghost Ship, when not, Ghost Ship 4.5%.