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Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Justin Liddle, Mentzendorff

Published:  04 September, 2023

Midway through 2023, Harpers is taking stock of yet another turbulent year for the drinks trade, with plenty of highs and lows, so far. Here, we conclude our series with Justin Liddle, interim MD at Mentzendorff. to find out how the year has gone so far, and what the remainder may bring.

How has business been for you in the first half of 2023 and how do things compare to where you were last year?

We started 2023 facing an ever-growing list of challenges, from price inflation and volume shortages to a stark economic outlook and general uncertainty. Although tough, we have a great team who dug in and delivered some really great results. It just goes to prove how a disrupted market can provide some good opportunities. Managing Champagne restrictions has also allowed us to take a good look at our core sectors and focus on the quality of distribution.

Compared to the first quarter of 2022, this year has undoubtedly required a greater time investment in order to achieve the same results which would perhaps be viewed as more ‘normal’ a couple of years ago.

How has the cost-of-living crisis played out across the year and what – if anything – have you been able to do to mitigate that?

We are extremely fortunate to work with a wonderful portfolio of producers who remain focused on delivering high-quality premium wines. Each wine has a powerful story to share and this puts us in an enviable position.

Cost of living pressures have meant consumers are undoubtedly drinking less, but expecting more from each bottle. Value is certainly key. Each bottle needs to deliver an experience, history and story.

That said, we have – of course – done our utmost to mitigate cost increases by seeking efficiencies across the supply chain.

What are you most proud of achieving this year? Have you managed to achieve any specific goals?

To further enhance the fantastic team atmosphere and outlook we have at Mentzendorff. Watching people around me grow, develop and deliver great results is very rewarding.

And what is the biggest cause for concern?

I have been and remain deeply concerned about the revised duty regime. Although already implemented, we are some time off seeing the full effect on the market of such a draconian increase on Port, Sherry and Madeira.

The work done by the WSTA has been outstanding and we continue to support their efforts in lobbying the government to ensure the temporary easement on light wine duties becomes permanent and avoids further damage.

What are the biggest drinking trends at the moment, and how do you expect that to change going into the autumn?

The continued ‘less but better’ trend is continuing a pace. The consumer continues to look for value across price points and when celebrating, wants to do so in style with wines and Champagnes which they know will deliver.

With volumes restricted and prices rising, our customers are exploring new appellations, regions and countries to find new experiences and enjoyment.

Is Covid now a distant dream, or are you still seeing lingering effects?

The pandemic had a profound effect on our industry both positive and negative, depending on which sectors you look at. But as an endlessly optimistic person, I am keen to focus on the lessons we all learned.

The independent retail trade showed that if you are flexible and adaptable, you could quickly create an offering that delivered just what the lockdown consumer was looking for. Many of these ‘new’ customers have remained loyal to their local wine merchants, building relationships and enjoying the personal service.

Away from the specifics, we all gained amazing resilience, strength, determination and focus.

Any predictions for the second half of the year?

So much depends on confidence. If we can navigate through the endless negative media reports on the economy, we should land the year well.

Quick-fire questions…

Old World or New?

Old World.

Cocktail or slow sippin’ spirit?

A slow sipping Delamain Pale & Dry!

Vermentino or Vermouth?

Vermouth. I love the growth in styles. I am particularly fond of our Italian Fertuna Vermouth.

Low or No?

Low. Give me a can of Taylor’s Chip Tonic RTD. Perfect at 5%.

Three-star or bistro?

Both. Depends what the occasion is!

Desert island tipple?

A magnum of RD2008 to go with all the fish I will be catching.