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The UK Market – Is the Specialist Importer Where the Gold Is?

20/07/2018

If you are looking to export to the UK, searching for a specialist is one strategy that might pay off. Here is how it works

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The business climate is one where the innovator and entrepreneurs (or in other words those that have found a unique specialism which they persuaded many to value) are hailed as the saviours of future business whether that be in tech (Elon Musk, Space X, Tesla) or ice cream (Jason Wolverton, Halo Top) or craft beer (Brewdog).

The spectre of trade wars and BREXIT, which are uncontrollable for traders, further push UK businesses to make sure that they find a unique space where we can look after ourselves, or at least innovate as much as possible. McDonalds UK CEO says that the UK market is in ‘perfect storm of challenges’ and this behemoth’s strategy is to disrupt and innovate.

Whichever way business turns today it seems that everyone is a specialist in something, and if you’re a big corporate then innovating and specialising is hard. How often do we hear from the corporates that they are ‘divesting of loss-making sites’ or ‘focussing on our core strengths’. Although there are risks of importing, foreign currency and uncertain consumer spending, they don’t seem to deter the doughty UK wine import businesses. Their response is to become more specialists in their nature. If you are looking to export to the UK, searching for a specialist is one strategy that might pay off.

Lee Evans, MD of Condor Wines, specialist, and leader in South American wines think so. Their business has grown as Argentinian Malbec has grown, and then been sustained because they responded quickly to the market and offer not one but several different levels of Malbec.

Lee’s mantra is ‘keeping things simple’. When UK buyers are thinking of South America he wants them to think of Condor first, almost as a sub-category champion. With the market requiring better quality, Condor’s specialist knowledge available and a more mature market there is less room for generalists, he believes.

Equally the benefit for producers and suppliers is the focus on their business in particular; whereas in a more generalist business then such focus can often be lacking.

Specialism in South American wines is also a feature of Gourvid, a newcomer to the sector. Their MD Juan Manuel Matas relocated to the UK to provide focus on the market for 2 wineries. They observed that the UK is open to new world wines especially from Argentina and Chile, and with business in Europe then the UK became a natural focal point. Their producer focus is more boutique projects with more natural wines and diversity of varietals. For example, they have the biggest producer of Ancellotta in the world and the only White Malbec from Argentina.

They focus is not just on the country of origin but on the type of wineries which produce different varieties – another dimension of specialism.Kunstler - Chardonnay Brut

Vintners Pride of Germany (VPOG), also a newcomer, and not surprisingly is focussing on the (finest) wine estates of Germany. According to Tony Porctor of VPOG their target market is the specialist independent retailer and wholesaler who sell on to the consumer and to the HoReCa sector, precisely those who are receptive and want to offer high quality, interesting wines that make perfect partners for good food and fine dining.

Their entire portfolio requires specialist knowledge and, of course, enthusiasm! Such focused support is by its nature unavailable from the grocery market. Even if VPOG did want to sell into this market, their principals would not be able to supply the required volumes year in year out. These are seasoned campaigners, previously involved with leading Australian brands, and they say that they have learned from the mistakes of the 1970s & 80s!

Marce Colucci specialises in Prosecco combining passion and good business sense. Colucci’s Prosecco was created out of personal passion and his families long connection with wines and winemaking. Whilst at the same time the emerging trend of sparkling wines growth in the market made for a compelling development.

Marce’s observation is that it is critical to be focused on what the consumer wants, create experiences and standout from the intense competition. These require a focus on the particular sector within the category and an open mind, which in turn brings that specialist knowledge to the customer.

Andina Wines Ltd is a new specialist Spanish import company with half a dozen high-quality producers. Their MD Joaquin Meier has always had a passion for wines and when the opportunity came to partner with his Spanish wife then the mould was set.

Ribera Del DueroJoaquin believes that a focus on a passionate area and a clear head for business provides a great platform from which to start. Andina Wines research finds a surprising lack of Spanish focussed supply businesses in the UK, especially considering its size and awareness as a food and drink producer.

Joaquin says that the lesser known wine regions of Spain are much under-represented and outstanding value for money when putting up against regional France or Italy or even Rioja itself. One avant-garde aspect of Andina’s range is the unique Cinema range. Created by a Spanish film star, the wines are high quality, individual estate production sold through the meme of Cinema.

One counter piece of research shows that alcohol wholesale distribution businesses have gone down from 2,605 to 2,531 in the 12 months to September 2017 and revenues have dropped by £1bn. This suggests the opposite, that in actual fact consolidation is at large as revenues fall. However, this may be more reflective of the wholesaler to outlet business as opposed to the importer to a wholesaler. These numbers report across all of the booze, and so are reflective of declining beer, and wine volumes as well.

Nonetheless, this increasing group of specialist wine businesses believes that the best way forward is to focus on their particular country or region.

In this short expose then it would appear that these are the innovators, disruptors, and specialists of the UK wine importing business - the happening businesses to trade with either as a customer or as a supplier. If you are a potential customer, you have the benefit of knowing that your supplier can come in and wax-lyrical and with passion about their chosen specialist country or region. This excitement for your consumers could be critical to their outlet experience. As we all know that Millennials and Gen Z require ‘experiences’ in the on-trade.

Equally, as the producer, you know that your brand(s) receive a focus and level of attention that they wouldn’t receive in the more generalist distributors. Wins always round it would appear.

If you are a producer and is planning to export to the UK then you should consider a specialist strategy. Finding the big importers is easy, but not necessarily where the value is. Identifying a specialist and why your wines fit with them is much more likely to yield results. You can achieve this directly or work with experienced operators who can help you look for those particular specialists.

Other related articles that might interest you:

How To Begin Exporting Wine To The UK Market

Wine Importers in the UK

Top 10 Wine Wholesalers in the UK

About The Author

Alistair Morrell The article is contributed by Alistair Morrell a Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors, and buyers. 

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