Anyone who knows anything about the Lanchester Group, which includes the wine bottling business, Greencroft Bottling and wine merchant Lanchester Wines, will not be surprised it has been all hands to the helm with staff moving, where necessary, between teams and divisions in order to keep the whole company going and helping out where it is most needed.
From running its wine business, to bottling, gifting and creating its own renewable energy, the Lanchester Group appears to be well diversified to see itself through the lockdown months, says Richard Siddle, including a new dedicated wine offer for independent wine merchants.
If you were allowed to visit the Lanchester Group’s headquarters on the outskirts of Durham in the North East of England at the moment, you would see staff still working and driving the company forward during the Covid-19 crisis. And, of course you’d also see its wind turbines still turning, creating another stable revenue stream for the business.
Which is just as well as there are a whole lot of drinks companies, wine producers and major retailers all relying on it to keep going at this time as they all look to keep up with the big boom in demand for wine during the lockdown.
The Lanchester Group is one of the main engine rooms of the UK wine industry at the best times, which quietly goes about its business keeping the overall supply chain moving.
Good litmus test
It makes them a good litmus test to assess just how the UK wine industry is coping at this time. For if Lanchester Wines and its Greencroft Bottling business were not busy then we would all need to be worried. As it is, things are working pretty much as normal, says director of sales Mark Roberts, albeit a little slower than usual due to safe distancing measures in place to keep things operational on the bottling and production floors.
The Lanchester Group really is the sum of its parts, with each of its divisions complementing each other – and that’s been particularly fortuitous at this time. Team members across the group have literally rolled up their sleeves to help where it’s needed, regardless of what the ‘usual day job’ may be.
Team work is key
But that’s very much the Lanchester spirit and way of doing things, Roberts says, “We all muck in for each other. That’s what we are all used to, everyone just joins in”.
The leadership and culture and tone of the business all comes from its owners, Tony and Veronica Cleary, who established the business in 1980. “It might sound a bit corny but they do really care about their people,” he said. “We’re a family business and we work to support each other just as a family would.”
Roberts says Lanchester Wines has also seen big changes in the way it is working as it is now doing so much more fulfilling orders and demand for off trade sales, rather than the usual 70% of business it does in the on-trade.
Just for independents
Its big move in the last few weeks, however, has been the added impetus to complete and get out into the trade a new dedicated service for independent and specialist wine merchants. It has been working behind the scenes for some time, stressed Roberts, putting together the right package and range of wines that will work in the independent sector.
It includes a number of lines from its Vintrigue Boutique Bulk range of specialised, premium smaller volume wines. Here, says Roberts, it is able to work with good family, independent producers, but get even more value by shipping smaller volumes in bulk and then bottling what are premium wines in the UK.
Robert’s says he believes its boutique bulk wines can really provide a competitive edge as these are award winning independent wines, but at great value price points. As they come in specially designed innovative packaging they can also command higher margins for the retailer, he added.
Lanchester Wines has around 30 wines in its independents range, both Boutique Bulk and bottled at source from renowned winemakers including Napa stalwart Napa Cellars, Joel Gott’s new-to-the-UK Oregon range, Anno Domini Vineyards in Veneto, northern Italy, and McPherson Wine Co, Lanchester Wines’ key Australian partner.
The Lanchester Wines range also includes beers from Full Circle Brew Co – a 30 hectolitre state of the art craft brewery, tap room and canning line in Newcastle, headed up by Ben Cleary. This further extends the Lanchester Group’s capabilities providing it with an outstanding craft beer range along with Lanchester Wines’ Kombucha brand, Dragon Tree and Bottle ‘n’ Bar gifts from Lanchester Gifts – which is a bottle of 5cl spirit or 20cl Prosecco and 150g bar of single origin Columbian chocolate (why has not anyone thought of that before?!).
Although the on-trade has closed its doors in the main, other than for home deliveries the Lanchester Wines team is still working closely with operators and its regional wholesalers to ensure they have what the need for as and then they can re-open and get going again.
“It’s just really important for us to be as close as we can with them at the moment,” he adds. “We are keeping them informed about what we are doing and making sure they have the right stock in place, sending them wines to taste. It’s an important time to be forecasting as well. We try and talk to them every week.”
But, he admits, it’s also difficult as it is just so hard to plan. “It’s so unpredictable. They really are unprecedented times. We are working very much week by week.”
Roberts also accepts the Lanchester Group is “in a privileged position” to be able to “keep trading” when many other drinks companies can’t. Encouragingly it has also not had any problems in terms of its supply chain and getting wines from around the world into the business for bottling.
As for the long term, Roberts says it’s too early to be making any strong predictions, but it feels some companies are going to come out of this stronger than others. “We are certainly innovating and doing what we can to come out of this in the best shape that we can,” he explains.
He’s also been pleased to see competitors coming together and working collaboratively in ways that are for the common good, and hopes that can continue. “We are certainly open to anything like that. We have done business with people we don’t normally work with and been able to supply them with wines when they have had extra demand.”
“I would like to think as an industry there will be more togetherness going forward. There’s going to be a lot of change, that’s for sure. People’s behaviours are going to change as well. But we are trying to stay positive about it all and we will certainly be ready to go when the on-trade opens up again.”