Location, location, location – thanks to Channel 4’s Kirstie and Phil we all know the importance of being well situated – and for Adam Ketteringham, one of Corney & Barrow’s account managers in the north of England, the opening of a new office in Leeds represents not only a big step up for him personally, but also for the whole north of England team. The premium wine distributor now has a much-improved, dedicated resource to better serve its existing customers in the north and target new venues and operators with its ever-expanding range of quality producers. Helen Arnold talks to Ketteringham about his career and what he hopes the new office can offer.
“We see this as significant intent and investment in the north of England,” is how Adam Ketteringham describes Corney & Barrow’s decision to open a new sales office based out of Leeds.
Corney & Barrow have had a northern presence for a long time with a sales team servicing on-trade, corporate and private customers (from the Lakes to the Moors, Leicester to the Borders), a dedicated sales support team and its own delivery drivers and vehicles. As the team has grown over the years it outgrew its existing premises at Scotch Corner, north Yorkshire and it was decided the time was right to find an alternative and improved office space.
The newly opened office, which the team moved into in at the beginning of May, is roughly equidistant from its two other major sales hubs – in London and Edinburgh (approximately two and a half hours each way) – and the business is benefiting from the greater accessibility and better transport links. The office is four minutes from Leeds station.
“We see this as significant intent and investment in the north of England and opening a tasting room is a key part of that,” says Adam Ketteringham who is tasked with heading up the new office.
“It is not just an office, but also a dedicated place where we can hold tutored tastings and supplier events. Previously, our producers visited our London and Edinburgh offices but now they also have a space in Leeds to visit our customers and team” he adds.
Like most moves, this was not without its teething problems. “We took over the Park Square building which had been vacant for three and a half years, and have completely gutted and sympathetically refurbished it,” he explains.
Overseeing the project fell within Ketteringham’s remit, something he describes as “rather different to his usual role,” but fortunately previous experience running his own businesses equipped him to take on the inevitable challenges of dealing with builders and project managing the renovation.
“Things took longer than expected, but the last bit of flooring is now down and we held our first internal tasting here a few weeks ago in mid-June.”
Ketteringham has been with Corney & Barrow for five and a half years – “a relative newbie” he laughs, referring to the length of service typical of many of the company’s employees. With a family background in the hospitality sector – “my mother ran a series of hotels and guest houses” – it seemed like the natural career path for 18-year-old Ketteringham to follow when he joined the Hotel du Vin group when it was still privately owned.
“I went into hospitality and mainly focused on country house hotels and fine dining. I did a couple of property openings with Hotel du Vin, and since then have always worked for independent businesses where I have been lucky enough to have a good degree of autonomy and freedom.”
He moved on to become food and beverage manager at Bibi’s restaurant and cocktail bar in Leeds, and latterly owned a small chain of casual dining restaurants in Harrogate and Leeds.
He first encountered Corney & Barrow back when he was working for Hotel du Vin and it was a key wine supplier to the hotel. “I started my relationship with C&B when I was a customer, and have always kept in close touch with them and admired their way of working with customers, their sourcing abilities and their work ethos.”
Of his eventual move to the company, he says: “My account manager at the time happened to ask me if I might know of anyone who would be interested in a sales job at C&B, and as I was always more interested in the drinks side of the business, I decided to go for it. Having worked for myself before it wouldn’t’t have been an easy jump to go into something overly corporate, but, the culture at Corney & Barrow is very much about letting people ‘get on with the job’ without micromanaging them which suits me well.”
It is also the sheer variety of the role which he particularly enjoys – with some unexpected highlights. “It was interesting sitting on the other side of the fence, so to speak,” he says. “I was expecting to come in and focus on the on-trade as that would be my core thing, but, I found I really enjoy working with both private and corporate customers as well,” he says.
A typical day for Ketteringham follows a short commute to the Leeds office, usually starting off with a series of emails and phone calls to customers.
“We are currently nearing the end of the Bordeaux en-primeur campaign, so I am keeping a particular eye on what my private customers are looking for for their cellars, and staying abreast of new Chateaux releases. I’m often then out and about visiting restaurants and on-trade clients – though perhaps not as much as I used to pre-Covid.”
The pandemic, he says, has changed his and his customer’s, way of working. “I see them as often as they want to see me, but many are busier than ever and short-staffed, so there are fewer opportunities to just pop in to see someone for a chat. Although things are still very much relationship-based, customer meetings and my working day are now much more structured. As I explain to them, I am also at the end of a phone or WhatsApp message…”
Another change that the north of England team are keen to introduce from the Leeds office is offering more focused, smaller tastings for the on-trade rather than large portfolio tastings for hundreds of people.
“We are now offering much more structured tastings so that people know exactly what they are doing, when and for how long they are doing it and how long they are going to be out of their business for” he explains. They can also function as useful training opportunities for teams either in-house or at the office” he says.
Covering the so-called Golden Triangle between Leeds, York and Harrogate, Ketteringham’s patch extends all the way up to Saltburn in the North East, with varied customers including a renowned Leeds-based French bistro, a modern gastro pub chain listed in the Michelin guide, and a clutch of Michelin starred restaurants.
“From local pubs to world-class restaurants, we look after a real spectrum of the trade,” he says. “What we are seeing more and more of are hybrid wine bar restaurants offering really interesting menus. My belief, if they serve top-notch food, their customers must require equally exciting and imaginative wines.”
Given the much publicised labour shortage in the hospitality sector, Ketteringham doesn’t believe it is any more difficult to recruit staff in the North than in the South East. “It is very much a shared struggle.”
“We have a concentration of top-notch operators up here, and the pool is really strong. Maybe 10+ years ago that wasn’t necessarily the case, and it was more difficult to persuade staff to move up here, but, I don’t think that is the situation now at all. There are many quality operators in the North to attract decent staff. We deal with some really fantastic cutting-edge accounts.”
Not only does Ketteringham deal on a daily basis with his regular customers, but his remit also covers wine training for on-trade accounts, as well as organizing and managing staff tastings.
North versus South
While Corney and Barrow offers the same wine in its portfolio across the UK, there are, he says some regional differences.
“Each of our sales team in the north look after a mix of business in their role; on-trade, corporate and private. That is a big regional difference for us, in our London markets they tend to have separate teams. Because of our broad spectrum of customers, we source and sell wines not only from our general stock holding, but also our en primeur offers and the renowned broking list. On-trade continues to be a large percentage of our northern business so we, of course, offer a high proportion of wines that are specifically on-trade focused.”
One of the biggest challenges facing Ketteringham over the last few months was maintaining continuity of supply of white Burgundy. “I would say from a private customers perspective, the lack of availability of certain wines has been difficult – we struggled to keep up with demand last year. A couple of low-yield harvests does also filter through to the on-trade. However, with some careful stock husbanding and the buying team’s abilities, we were able to offer alternatives and weather the storm so to speak.”
Trends in the on-trade
As for what is in demand at present, Ketteringham says: “Customers are certainly looking for top examples of traditional wines, but also newer varieties that are interesting and different., Be that from a region that is perhaps relatively unknown, an unusual grape from a well-known region, or a producer doing something new and interesting.”
He says there is also a noticeable trend within fine dining for a more eclectic wine offering. “Before Covid we introduced some fantastic Hungarian and Romanian wines into the portfolio, these have gone down really well with on trade customers and are now regarded as quite commonplace on wine lists. We do continually introduce customers to all sorts of interesting native grapes, watch this space…”
“We have, most recently, adding significant new agencies from South Africa and Chile,” which Ketteringham reports have attracted a lot of interest.
When asked about natural wines Ketteringham says there is undeniably a “definite trend” within the industry looking for natural wines which he expects to continue. “We don’t hop on to a trend per se” he says, “but, many of our producers have been in the vanguard of making wines with minimal intervention for quite some time. From let’s say, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine de La Romanée-Conti, and Dominio de Pingus downwards, these are leading exponents of both organic and biodynamic winemaking.”
“We are definitely seeing more producers move towards sustainable winemaking and the on-trade are increasingly interested in a wine’s provenance. For us, it is also about our continuing efforts to source producers that offer the quality and value which our customers expect.”
As to the future, Ketteringham says the team are working on an exciting calendar of events and tastings for the coming year and utilizing our new wine education team in the north.
“We have just added a further new hire to the sales team, and in tandem with the new office opening, will be focusing on the Manchester area and the M62 corridor. This will continue to grow our business in that area, it is such an exciting time for us in the north.”
- Corney & Barrow is a supplier partner to The Buyer.