Dan Whine has seen most things in a wine career that has seen him buying wine for restaurants, major distributors and smaller, regional independents, but working for a business that specialises in getting the finest wines known to humanity to customers in a matter of minutes, on the back of a motorbike, was certainly an eye opener. But whilst he might not dress up in leathers and wear a crash helmet to work, he is a key part of the Zapp operation that is helping to revolutionise the way fine wine is now being bought and sold to an ever expanding consumer base. He sits down with Richard Siddle to explain just how an on demand grocery business works, and why Zapp sits very much out on its own when it comes to selling premium – and fine – wines and spirits.
Zapp was founded in London in 2020 by Joe Falter and Navid Hadzaad with a clear mission – to bring premium and luxury products (some 3,000 of them) to customers in minutes. It has gone on to become one of the most influential and important routes to market for fine wine and spirits – whether you realise it or not.
If you were asked to describe a typical high end, fine wine merchants then you would stereotypically think of pin striped gentlemen pottering around some grand establishment nestled in the heart of St James, or Mayfair, or some other illustrious neighbourhood of central London.
You would certainly not picture a fleet of mopeds scuttling around the streets of the capital with bottles of the finest Champagne and first growth Bordeaux, all to be delivered within minutes of being ordered.
Yes, the world of on demand grocery apps has reached fine wines and spirits and Zapp claims to be, well, the finest of them all when it comes to sourcing, selling and delivering them. It says its sales – concentrated on central London – have increased threefold in the last year.
Heading up its drinks division is the suitably named, Dan Whine, with years of experience behind him buying and selling wine across the Caribbean, and then closer to home for the likes of Liberty Wines, Borough Wines and most recently Petersham Cellars, part of Petersham Nurseries.
Jobs that have certainly given him the knowledge and know how of where to go to source the most in demand wines, be it the most prestigious vintages of fine wine, through to the latest and most happening tequilas, mezcals, rums or whiskies.
All of which is vital in his role heading up beers, wines and spirits at Zapp, the on demand deliver app that believes it stands apart from the likes of more grocery focused apps such as Gorillas and Getir. Businesses that are hell bent on getting you your lunch or dinner in the time it takes to boil a bowl of rice.
Zapp’s position in the market is very much specialised in targeting potential customers with the highest disposable income in London with a range of goods to satisfy as many of their needs as possible – particularly when it comes to fine wines and sprits. Alcohol is one of the biggest categories on Zapp with an average order across beers, wines and spirts between £50-100 compared to £35 average for its other product ranges.
Run out of Krug at a dinner party? Need urgently to get your hands on bottle of Petrus? Want to share some premium tequila shots with your friends? Who are you going to call? Well, Zapp, of course.
A trading strategy that is quietly turning the fine wines and spirits market on its head – whether major wine producers, brand owners, or fine wine merchants realise it.
Whine says you can’t underestimate the impact that Zapp – and the new retail channel that on demand delivery has now opened up.
“It’s still very much evolving as a category,” he adds. “We get compared to other rapid delivery players all the time, but we are a very different beast. In fact, we don’t compare at all. We are all about premium retailing, offering a carefully curated service, 24 hours a day, seven days a week to a customer base of high net worth individuals living in central London. It’s a very dynamic and exciting business to be part of and continually shocks even those of us working here as it grows and grows.”
A platform that is 100% tuned into the way modern consumer wants to do business and spend their money. The power is no longer in the hands of brand owners, distributors and fine wine retailers who for decades have been able to dictate how the premium drinks market works, controlling allocations and building up demand through carefully created sales tools like en primeur.
The power now rests in the hands of the rich and wealthy who are actively looking to avoid the traditional way of doing business, in order to get the level of immediate service they require. It’s not just impatient teenagers who want everything now and live on Amazon Prime to get it, it’s the most well heeled and influential consumers in the land.
Whine says the drinks industry needs to wake up to the fact these kind of consumers view the world very differently to how it is used to working. He says a lot of the suppliers that want to do business with Zapp don’t fully understand how it works, and what service it is providing.
He explains: “They often see us as another off-trade account. Whereas our customers are looking to us to provide them with an on-trade experience at home. Their drinking habits are very much lead by what is going on in the on-trade. Particularly in areas of fine wine. What works well in the premium on-trade, works well with us.”
Which is why its fastest selling categories are premium tequila, whisky and Champagne. “Everything at the fine end of the market works incredibly well with us. We are actually now the leading retailer in some of these categories,” says Whine.
In fact, it can struggle at times to keep up with the seemingly insatiable demand for some luxury drinks products – some costing up to £5,000 – that sell out as soon as they go on sale.
Which will, no doubt, surprise, if not shock, many of the far more established, traditional fine wine and spirits players who may not even see Zapp as a competitor at all.
Being in their blind spot has clearly been a competitive advantage that has helped Zapp gain such a foothold in the fine and spirits sector.
“Customer obsession is our biggest tag line here. We are totally focused on what our customers want. Our product ranges are curated by them based on what they are looking for. That’s how we have so quickly become one of the leading retailers of fine wine and spirts in London and the UK. We are very trend lead,” explains Whine.
It was noticeable visiting its central London office, facing Green Park, how many of its team are data specialists, constantly analysing sales trends and watching what its customers are ordering and when. Data that is crunched, disseminated and passed to Whine and its team to determine which products they go out to source and sell.
Data analysis, he says, is vital when sourcing new products. “We look at reports daily of what people are searching for on the app. We also do regular surveys. We are very driven by data. But also keen for customers to get in touch and ask us if we can get a particular product for them.”
Second time around
This is actually the second time that Whine has worked for Zapp, having being with the business just a few months after it started in September 2021. Whilst he enjoyed his time at Petersham Cellar, he says he jumped at the chance to go back to Zapp when the opportunity came up earlier in the year.
“I missed this place very much and watched it grow and could see the opportunities that were opening up. I kept in close contact with the co-founder, Navid [Hadzaad], and was super excited to come back. The business just continues to grow and there are just so many opportunities for beers, wines and spirits here,” he says. “There is just so much freedom and creativity to grow the selection and our catalogue of products.”
The fact there are also so many parallels with his previous on-trade buying roles either directly for restaurants, such as Plateau, or with Liberty Wines and Petersham Cellar.
“I initially trained in hospitality management and worked for Conran restaurants, spent some time in the Caribbean, trained as a sommelier and fell in love with wine.”
He even has a degree in winemaking from Plumpton College and worked in vineyards in England and Italy (G.D. Vajra) – so is as well versed in how to make wine as he buying it.
“All those experiences have all had an influence on my job here now. It is exciting to be able to bring that knowledge from my other buying roles and then apply that to fine wine and spirits.”
A key part of his role is tracking down vintages that are drinking well now. Zapp’s customers are not looking to buy a bottle to put in their cellar, it is being bought to drink immediately.
“It is super exciting to be able to list those wines and that knowledge definitely comes from working in hospitality.”
Buying and sourcing
So how does he track down the finest wines and spirits?
“I work with most major agencies in the UK and then we have some direct relationships with producers – like Antinori in Italy. They saw our potential very early on and were keen to get their wines in the right hands, but also in the quantities we need to supply.”
Zapp also has direct buying relationships with a number of major drinks brands companies including LVMH, ABnBev, Asahi, Campari and Pernod Ricard.
Whine admits Zapp throws up some issues that some suppliers can find difficult to deal with – including selling too much – which seems strange to see as a problem.
“We sell quantities of some products that suppliers are simply not used to. The biggest challenge we have is getting big enough allocations on certain products and then managing them,” he says. “It’s a big new problem as everyone wants the same products.”
He says it can be frustrating to secure enough allocation of certain lines, particularly bigger formats, as they run out so quickly. A year’s allocation, for example, of jeroboams for a certain wine sold out in a week.
“We have had to work hard to convince some brand owners about what we do and how they can work with us. Many see us being part of the convenience sector,” he adds.
He cites its relationship with LVMH as being a classic example of changing a company’s perception about what it does.
“LVMH over indexes in the kind of premium products we trade in and initially they would rather see their products in white table cloth restaurants. They now realise our customers are the same, but it took them a while to appreciate that. We have a zero policy on discounting and don’t look to under cut anyone. We are very much a premium retailer, with a customer base where producers want to have their products.”
LVHM, he says, now sees Zapp as a great platform to help launch new brands into the market, whereas in the past it would have to rely on a prestigious listing in Harrods, Hedonism or Harvey Nichols. By working with Zapp it is talking directly to its key customers, he says.
Zapp has looked to get closer ties and relationships with key brand partners by setting up a Zapp Boutique feature on the app which it is promoting as a ‘store within a store’ featuring prestigious brands including Antinori, LVMH, Apple, Dr. Barbara Sturm, Bamford, SkinCeuticals, Cipriani amongst others.
It’s also a good way, says Whine, to further emphasise Zapp’s premium position by working with key health, beauty and luxury lifestyle brands.
“We can offer luxury products within minutes 24/7,” he says. From caviar, to fruit and veg from Daylesford Organic, to top end fashion and perfume brands, it all helps to “attract high end customers,” he says. “We want to be seen as dynamic with an ever changing selection.”
Whine is also keen to stress that whilst it specialises in tracking down the finest wines and spirits, it also has plenty of every day wines too with a range that goes for £15 to £5,000.
“But £30 to £50 is our sweet spot,” he adds. “We want to develop more that independent merchant image backed by the best customer experience. People see us as as a drinks specialist and trust us and are happy to explore new wines. Natural wine is a huge thing for us now, which again is that on-trade connection, so we are looking to grow that selection.”
He adds: “It’s really important for us to offer a diverse and interesting selection that touches every premium price point with good quality wine. That is where you get your customer retention.”
Big in spirits
Whine says Zapp follows a similar strategy with its spirits range, with a good selection of every day premium sprits, but a strong reputation for highly sought after, ultra prestige spirits brands as well. It claims, for example, to be one of the UK’s biggest retailer of Don Julio 1942 tequila that retails for around £200 a bottle.
When it first started the spirits range was dominated by the big surge in demand for tequila, and whilst it still has a wide tequila range, it has also stretched out into whisky, rum and vodka too.
“Whisky is now booming in high end spirits and we are seeing these terroir-driven brands coming in from all over the world. So the world of whisky is a category we are building with brands from the US, Canada, the Middle East and Asia including Japan.”
He wants Zapp to be seen like having access to a great back bar where you can go and source products to make great margaritas, or martinis or Old Fashions at home. “We want to help create that bar experience at home,” he adds.
Whine says he has worked hard to build “direct relationship with leading spirits brand agencies” and keep on top of what is happening in the on-trade and what activations and launches they are working on with bars.
“Because if a certain product is going well in a particular bar then customers will want to buy it when they go home as well. We want those agencies to see as part of that activation investment,” he says.
“Having that visibility on a back bar is hugely prestigious for them, but then Zapp can come in and help you sell volume off the back of it. So brand agencies are excited to be working with us.”
Despite its impressive growth over the last three years the pressure is on to keep on building sales and its position not only in the on demand market, but across premium retailing as a whole. To do that means staying close to your customer and listening even more intently to what they want.
“Customers that come to us are replacing a visit to a bricks and mortar shop. They are coming to us because we can hand deliver them in a ice cold bottle of Champagne. Few retailers have the selection we have, or the large allocations. If you are struggling to get a bottle of Sassicaia, we will have it for you,” he promises.
“But we need to talk to our customers more, be it directly or via social media. We need to make sure they are aware of our full selection. We want to give them an even better user experience on the app. We work tirelessly on making it as user friendly as possible and push new products to the front.”
It is also looking to create its own brands and work with third parties to bring added excitement to the range. It linked up, for example, last year with social media influencer, the Gstaad Guy, to create a new Provence rosé brand called Palais Constance.
“We wanted to help create a luxury luxury rosé brand and been very pleasantly surprised at how well it has done.”
But whatever new products are introduced they have to live up to Zapp’s sustainability standards. “Sustainable sourcing is also important to us and products and brands need to reach our sustainability criteria,” he says.
It has even developed its own water brand in a recyclable Tetra-pak.
Zapp has made its name in London and has no plans to venture into other cities and believes there is still huge potential to build and find new customers in the capital.
Whine is also on the look out for new suppliers to work with, particularly those with a diverse range, and good experience of working in the on-trade and an understanding of what is selling well in restaurants and bars.
“We are always looking and changing our selection and willing to have discussion with anyone.
But the key things we look for how the product is made, and we need an assurance there is enough stock for us to work with. We are looking for products that will keep Zapp at the forefront of innovation in drinks and are always looking to work with emerging brands.”
He says he could not be happier in his role: “Every day brings something new and something different, even though I have been in wine for over 20 years. The business is still developing and is incredibly exciting to be here.”
- You can find out more about Zapp at its website here.