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Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Tom Platt, Liberty Wines

Published:  02 January, 2024

Following another eventful year for the drinks trade, Tom Platt, CEO of Liberty Wines, reflects on the highs and lows of 2023, plus hopes and plans for the business in the year ahead.

How was business for you across 2023 when compared with 2022 (and pre-pandemic)?

Challenging but rewarding. We had to adapt quickly to deal with a fast-changing market, but as a result 2023 saw double digit growth on 2022. This is a real reflection of how well everyone at Liberty Wines has adapted to provide the best possible service for our customers.

What, for you, were the specific highs of 2023?

In the autumn, after 18 months of hard work, we opened our own bonded warehouse in Basingstoke. This will help us continue to improve our service to customers across the UK. It also means our central London warehouse can continue providing excellent service in an area where we continue to see rapid sales growth. The whole company contributed to making the Basingstoke warehouse project a success. Our focus for 2024 will be to keep growing in order to fill all the extra space we’ve built for ourselves.

And the lows?

The introduction of the new duty system. It added costs during a time when customers and consumers could ill-afford it, not only by singling out wine for significant duty increases, but by also increasing administration and therefore the costs of doing business. More fundamentally, this approach reduces wine to nothing more than its ABV, completely ignoring the role of people and place. It runs totally against the consumer appetite to drink less but better wine.

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

Costs have risen for everyone. Our producers have experienced price increases in their vineyards and when sourcing dry goods, duty has risen and distribution costs have also gone up. We have worked to mitigate the impact of these where possible and retain our commitment to only increase price as vintages change. Most importantly though, we have focused on constantly improving our service and making sure we get out and educate as many front-line staff as possible to help our customers sell more successfully.

How much of a concern are the duty hikes, will you have to alter the way you do business moving forward?

Next year we will need to employ someone new to manage the extra complexity that the planned 2025 duty regime will bring. Like Brexit, this creates more bureaucracy, meaning more costs for businesses. We’d rather be investing this money in other areas, but the government don’t seem to be listening. We will also focus on educating customers to help them sell better quality wines - the duty increase on a £7 bottle of wine is significant, while on a £20 it is below the rate of inflation. New additions to our portfolio will focus on wines that continue to offer great value for money.

As a business, what goals have you set for 2024 and how do you expect to achieve them?

To keep focusing on the quality of our portfolio, providing great service and developing the brilliant people who make Liberty Wines the company it is. If we get that right, we should be getting it right for customers and the rest will fall into place.

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

I don’t personally like making predictions… I generally get them wrong. We know people will keep drinking less, so keep giving them a reason to buy and make sure there is no compromise on quality. That way consumers will get the experience they are looking for.

Quick fire questions:

Champagne or English sparkling?

I’ve gone for Champagne this Christmas

Cocktail or straight spirit?

Springbank 12 CS

Rioja or Mendoza?

Altos Las Hormigas Los Amantes 2021 all the way…

Michelin-starred or relaxed bistro?

Relaxed Bistro

Desert island tipple?

It’s going to be hot, so a couple of chilled magnums of Chablis should do the trick

Low or no?