Judy Kendrick knows what it takes to get a producer’s wine on to a restaurant list. For in her role as the architect of the Wines Unearthed initiative she gives producers without any distribution in the UK a low cost route to entry, with a dedicated fixture at next week’s London Wine Fair. Ahead of the show, on Monday, she is hosting a special conference giving producers vital practical steps on how to get picked up and listed. Here she gives her advice on finding a footing the UK on-trade.
So you want your wine on the best tables in the country . . . but are you ready for the UK on-trade?
For a start, even the expression can be confusing. On-trade means different things to different nations. So to put the record straight; in the UK the on-trade is where we drink on the premises – what many in Europe call ‘horeca’. Of course, today, many ‘on-trade’ establishments sell bottles of wine from small retail spaces carved out of the corners of their bars or restaurants. Look at places such as Vinoteca which has so successfully pioneered this successful phenomena in and around central London. This retail sales sector is known-as as ‘off-trade’ where bottles can only be consumed off the premises.
About the market
The UK is one of the largest importers of wines in the world. We have a relatively small production of wine ourselves, but we buy from every other wine producing country too. In terms of diversity, it’s the most diverse market in the world.
At first the market can appear confusing, but we hope the diagram below explains it a bit more clearly. The % figures are a guide (but only a guide) to the margins that each sector expects to earn from the other.
Using an agent or going direct
Now here’s a conundrum for every producer, whether to find an agent or to spread your wings and sell to direct to a number of different companies around the country.
There are benefits to having an agent who solely is responsible for selling your brand, and for where and how it is sold. BUT if you think that by finding an agent your work is done – then think again.
We frequently use an expression – you have to be in it to win it – corney I know, but in this competitive market it’s truer than ever. You need to be in the market, you need to be seen by the people who are pouring your wines in restaurants, you need to be in the mind of your agent’s sales team and you want to do everything you can not to get lost in their portfolio of wines.
A good agent can make the difference between success and failure. Roger Jones, owner of The Harrow at Little Bedwyn makes it very clear. He told us: “Liberty Wines has a great database system which gives all their customers bespoke updates on vintages on the wines they individually buy, they also organise great tastings across the country and their staff reply to emails out of hours”.
There is a lot of competition in the UK so agents as well as their producers really need to be on the ball.
Some agents such as Bibendum, Liberty Wines and Enotria&Coe sell direct to the on-trade, as well as to all other sectors of the market, but others, such as New World specialist Seckford Agencies and Portuguese specialist Oakley Wine Agencies do their on-trade sales through specially appointed regional wholesalers to avoid any conflict over selling direct to their customers’ customers.
There are many ‘regional wholesalers’ in the UK. Companies who specialise in selling to on-trade businesses in their region. These companies are definitely worth searching out.
You will also find that many independent retailers have a small wholesale arm to their business, so if you’re selling into this sector – why not take a trip to visit them. Find out more, host a tasting for their customers. The old adage ‘people buy from people’ is never truer than in this business.
Whilst it can be difficult to sell direct to the on-trade and we don’t indicate this on the chart above, it is a possibility, and it is becoming more and more possible. If you are in Europe it can be a lot easier for on-trade buyers to ship in small volumes, and so many are now starting to branch out in this direction.
There’s a new wave of independent retailers who are starting to buy as a group: take a look at the Vindependents group as a good example. Many of them do some wholesaling to local on-trade establishments, and producers can sell to them as a group or to them as individual businesses.
There are some very large wholesalers who always prefer to buy direct from producers. Names such as Matthew Clark and Mitchells and Butler must be at the top of many producers’ wish lists. These companies only sell to the on-trade, and have huge market share.
A really successful ‘showcase’ for selling direct is that of Gavin Quinney from Chateau Bauduc. Over many years he’s build up relationships with the likes of Hotel du Vin, Rick Stein and Gordon Ramsay, nowadays making special wines for these companies as well having his wines as a permanent feature on their lists. It is possible, but it takes time, perseverance, personality and hard work.
- You can hear how Quinney achieved these enviable listings, and discover why Roger Jones works with certain producers on May 3 at a special conference, The Road Map to Export, being held at London’s Olympia on the day before the London Wine Fair officially starts on May. The seminar is organised by Judy Kendrick and the Wines Unearthed team. It is being chaired by commentator and wine producer Robert Joseph, buying director of Bibendum Wine, Andrew Shaw, Naked Wines’ buying director, Ray O’Connor and managing director of Oddbins, Ayo Akintola. Each will share their own experiences and offer advice for producers looking to find their way in to the UK market. It is free to Wines Unearthed exhibitors or £150. Full details and tickets are available here. The ticket also includes a copy of the ‘Road Map to Export’ guide which contains information about how the UK market works, how to price your wines, and how the different buying channels work.