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Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Miles Beale, WSTA

Published:  09 December, 2022

Following another turbulent year for the drinks trade, Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), reflects on the highs and lows of 2022, plus the hopes and plans for the business in the year ahead.

How has business been for you across 2022 when compared with 2019?

Tricky one for us. But it’s chalk and cheese – or yoghurt, at least! In 2019 we were helping members prepare for post-Brexit trading. Since then, change has become the only thing on which we can rely. 2022 has seen us provide as much advice as ever – but across an increasingly wide field, much of which features UK government paralysis. At least we have seen the back of Covid and restrictions and – as 2023 hoves into view – there seems a chance that the UK government will splutter back into life in 2023. Because businesses need stability and certainty.

What, for you, were the specific highs of 2022?

A long, hot, lockdown-free summer, with some ‘wins’ – including keeping glass out of DRS in England, extension of labelling transition periods and helping businesses work through the transition for imports. We were delighted to see government reject the concept of an Online Sales Tax, although it has to be said that extracting wins from government this year has been like drawing teeth! On a more cheerful note, it’s great to have a new chairman, Mark Riley from Edrington, and also a deputy in Pierpaolo Petrassi on (the) board.

And the lows?

UK government meltdown and three PMs in one year. The government failed to function: no decisions, uncertainty, damage to the business environment; and the UK’s reputation has suffered as a result.

More specifically, how has the cost-of-living crisis impacted and what as a business have you done to help mitigate the effects for you and your customers?

We have done everything we can think of to minimise costs to business. Thanks to strong qualitative research we have a good idea of the impact of border controls on costs, so we can help members focus on the areas that have the most impact.

How much of a concern is the proposed change to the duty regime?

There are very few winners. At best it’s ‘equally unfair’ for spirits and generally significantly worse for wine and retailers. But the most recent government position has softened on the most important issues. We are of course pleased we secured the scrapping of the sparkling wine supertax. But above all we need to ensure that Treasury ministers follow through on their changes to the original model – and on a permanent basis; and to recognise an opportunity to encourage growth by supporting small producers of all types of product.

In terms of the product itself and drinking occasions, which current trends in the drinks world would you predict to continue to grow and why?

This isn’t my area of expertise, but I would like to see a permanent recovery in demand in the on-trade and consumers investing more in drinking higher quality drinks at home. There’s a lot more to come on no/low drinks, and discovering how and when consumers want them. I’d also like to see drinks education continue to grow, as a UK product (via the WSET) as well as with UK students.

As a business, what goals have you set for 2023 and how do you expect to achieve them?

I want the WSTA to be increasingly influential in helping a recovering UK government make more informed decisions, faster and in a way that stimulates economic growth. We are looking forward to constructive discussion with government on excise simplifications and Border 2025 initiatives, as well as continuing to help businesses protect themselves from fraud. We’re also continuing working with government and businesses on digital age verification.

More generally, in terms of business, how do you predict the drinks landscape will look this time next year?

In a bold prediction, I will say that the second half of the year will see an improving economy, returning consumer confidence and optimism.

Quick fire questions:

Champagne or English sparkling?

That should be ‘and’ not ‘or’ – and the answer is ‘yes please’!

Cocktail or straight spirit?

Christmas cocktails.

Riesling or Chardonnay?

Love both. Depends on food.

Pinot Noir or Bordeaux-style blend?

Bordeaux, but I refer you to my first answer and raise you a blanc de noirs!

Michelin starred or relaxed bistro?

Who’s paying?

Desert island tipple?                                                                                

G&T – heavy on the ice and grapefruit (anti-scurvy!)