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Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Ben Knollys, Hatch Mansfield

Published:  30 December, 2022

Following another turbulent year for the drinks trade, Ben Knollys, MD at Hatch Mansfield, 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?

In spite of numerous external challenges, we have had a good year. We went into Covid with the same longer-term approach we took to the GFC in 2008 – take care of all stakeholders, keep doing the right things well when many others will be battening down the hatches, and we will come out stronger, with greater market share and hopefully reputationally enhanced.

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

Confidence that the worst of Covid was behind us, allowing all of our customers across all sectors to be able to operate in full with far fewer ongoing barriers to trade and also enabling us to see face to face so many of our family of producers who we had hugely missed.

[And the] launch of Esporão – a producer we had admired from afar and we were delighted to partner with as we moved into Portugal, plus the expansion of our team with 10 completely new roles.

And the lows?

Shipping – costs, capacity, strikes, weather, cutting and running – a perfect storm! Availability – we have delighted in being able to grow our brands over time, but with the short vintages out of New Zealand, and France (especially Burgundy and Champagne) we have had to turn down so many opportunities and disappoint so many potential customers – anathema to us.

More specifically, what as a business have you done to help mitigate the effects of inflation and cost of living for you and your customers?

The impacts continue to be huge, across all parts of the chain – big cost increases for our suppliers, especially around dry goods; huge logistical price increases, particularly in shipping and delivery; the personal impact on our team of rising bills; huge pressures on all our customers and the end consumer. In terms of mitigation, we have worked very hard with our suppliers to restrict and delay the increases from their end. For our team we are about to pay them a second cost of living lump sum to help alleviate the pressures.

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

The WSTA have done a great job of being right across this (and any significant wine or spirit company who isn’t a member should join – with all the legislative challenges we continue to face we have needed the WSTA like never before. Frankly some companies are getting a free ride here).

Whilst a stay of execution has been achieved for 18 months, we all have to keep lobbying to keep the interim simplification (or something similar) as a permanent feature for wine. The Government is portraying the regime changes as a simplification – nothing could be further from the truth for a natural product such as wine where control of abv is impossible. As for the Scottish DRS, don’t get me started!

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

Wine in cans and key kegs, thanks to people’s environmental concerns and the desire for quality single serve and the trend for fresher, lower alcohol styles continues with regions such as Vinho Verde and Western Australia, to name but two, being great beneficiaries.

Although we are seeing some evidence of people trading down, there are instances, as we saw during Covid, of people trading up in the off-trade, perhaps as a result of fewer occasions dining out, albeit that we are delighted that the better on-trade businesses continue to trade well having made a strong recovery from the pressures of the last two years.

For us, the message about drinking less but better is important and our portfolio reflects this. Why drink two £5 bottles of wine when you can drink one £10 bottle and get many, many times the amount of wine for the same spend?

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

ESG. And to get through the next round of challenges whilst continuing to delight customers and consumers with the wonderful wines from all our producers. [Plus] to continue the leap forward in marketing – the digital landscape gives us so much opportunity to speak to the consumer in a targeted and more personal way.

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

One thing the last few years has taught us is to expect the unexpected so it’s difficult to make predictions. Our long-term views always combine a fair amount of realism together with optimism. Strong brands and good quality are reassuring for consumers in any category during turbulent times, so we’re hopeful for what this means for our wines.

Quick fire questions:

Champagne or English sparkling?


Cocktail or straight spirit?


Riesling or Chardonnay?

Riesling, endlessly fascinating

Pinot Noir or Bordeaux-style blend?

Pinot Noir

Michelin starred or relaxed bistro?

Depends who’s paying…

Desert island tipple?

Fine white Burgundy, also endlessly fascinating