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Liberty doubles down on ‘giving good reasons to buy’

Published:  25 January, 2024

Liberty Wines always comes out batting strong at its busy annual portfolio tasting at The Oval, and this year was no exception, with some 25 countries represented, along with fortified, spirits, alcohol free and olive oils.

The extensive Italy portfolio, as usual, had prominent billing, though with exciting offers from around the world, including the likes of Georgia, Armenia, Israel, India, China and Japan.

As an early 2024 barometer of the mood in the trade - and the on-trade especially – this January event proves useful, both to pick up feedback on the Christmas trading period and to assess the outlook as we head into a new year.

Harpers caught up with Liberty’s CEO, Tom Platt (pictured), who’s take could best be described as ‘cautious optimism’, with Liberty currently more focussed on consolidating and improving certain core areas of its portfolio, rather than overly expanding in more off-piste directions.

“Christmas was good, exceeding expectations, but everything doesn't feel totally stable; there's a bit of that sense of ‘is it going to be a tough year, or not’,” said Platt.

He highlighted that Liberty had continued strengthen its Burgundy portfolio, in response to “smaller harvests making availability more challenging for people”, while also significantly building its Spain offer to create “a better representation of what Spain is doing, the excitement there”.

However, Liberty has also redoubled the emphasis on where to find true value across its portfolio, mindful of the ongoing economic situation and challenges facing the on-trade.

“It’s definitely challenging out there… there are people doing extremely well and then people who are struggling more, and it’s about working really closely with them to help understand what we need to do,” said Platt.

“That can come from quite different parts of the portfolio, so its all about the ability to communicate well with the customer, to understand the challenges they are facing.”

Platt echoes other suppliers in saying that the key to 2024 – as with 2023 – will be getting the basics right, both in terms of seamless service (and correcting mistakes fast), plus offering true “quality-for-value balance”, rather than just cheaper alternatives. And then, most critically, to back this up with support to help customers sell through.

“We know our portfolio is fantastic, but we know there are other great portfolios too… we know people are drinking less, we have to give them a good reason to buy, to give our customers stories to go with the wines.”

Liberty’s most recent major investment was to open a new warehouse last year, with a bonded capacity too. This, says Platt, is aimed at ensuring the service level matches the portfolio, to give Liberty that edge during these challenging times.

“The team can see the immediate benefits of having control, but it also takes away all the excuses for anything – it’s all down to us,” he smiles, before diving back into the thick of the tasting.

One remark of Platt’s perhaps best summed up the current mood, among both trade customers and consumers alike, as we look ahead into the newly unfolding year.

“Customers are smart, they can tell if something isn’t good value, and if you don’t deliver that, they won’t return.”