In November 2017, Conviviality was riding the crest of a wave after share prices hit a record high of 426p following a raft of acquisitions.

Swindon and its environs have several claims to fame, from yielding James Bond creator Sir Ian Fleming to creating what is surely the world’s most complex roundabout.

When overworked news editors have a gaping hole in their papers, they can always rely on the anti-alcohol lobby to supply a scare story about the nation’s drink problem.

There’s a picture of the playwright Robert Bolt above the bar at Cork of the North, a hybrid-style wine merchant in Sale, on the south of Manchester.

Collaboration is a hot topic among independent wine merchants as they bid to increase margins, overcome barriers to trade and fend off the multiples. We caught up with Tim Carlisle, new business manager at Vindependents – an agency owned by and solely catering to indies – to explore the pros and cons of working collegiately. 

The family business

19 March, 2018

It has become accepted wisdom that the male of the species needs a space of his own to escape the pressures of family life.

Vodka: Coming up Trumps

15 March, 2018

When Donald Trump licenced his name to a US vodka brand in 2005, it seemed like a drinks category that could do no wrong. That was back when the idea of Trump becoming president seemed as likely as the Pope announcing his engagement to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the spirits industry’s star category provided the teetotal entrepreneur with a more credible roadmap towards world domination.

Mike James is the driving force behind an Aldi wine range that punches well above its weight when it comes to winning awards, earning column inches and growing retail sales. He has a strong track record of making shrewd decisions, exhibiting flair and dynamism in his buying choices and helping to shape the nation’s drinking habits. It has made him a serial number one on DRN’s Most Influential People in Wine list and earned him a reputation as one of the country’s most skilfull buyers. 

Age and beauty

26 January, 2018

In 1780 the good folk living along London’s Old Broad Street were abuzz with the news that a new wine merchant was opening on their doorstep. Edward Bland Corney’s shop sold only a limited range of port, sherry and Bordeaux, but it flourished and evolved into Corney & Barrow, one of the great names on the London wine scene. The old store is now consigned to the history books, but in 2018 the firm boasts thriving sales to private clients and a range of on-trade accounts, with a turnover of £60 million and offices in London, Newmarket, North Yorkshire, Edinburgh, Ayr, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Last month DRN surveyed 400 readers on what they considered the greatest threats to the future health of the drinks industry and the anti-alcohol lobby came second.

Midnight plane to Georgia

24 January, 2018

Georgia has been revealed as the birthplace of wine by an international team of scientists that found evidence of viticultural processes dating back to 6,000BC.

Trickery revealed

22 January, 2018

The campaigner who exposed Public Health England for massaging evidence to push through a reduction in UK alcohol guidelines has told DRN he believes such skulduggery is “endemic”. In January 2016, the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, cut drinking guidelines for men from 21 units a week to 14, bringing them in line with women, and declared there is no safe level of drinking. To justify this move she cited evidence from a Sheffield Alcohol Research Group report. The report’s authors essentially recommended a lowering of drinking guidelines based on an assessment of the potential harm of low-level consumption. 

Prentice: potential to take back trade

Wimbledon's craft serve

22 December, 2017

There has never been a more exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs to break into the burgeoning British beer scene as the nation’s love of craft brews shows no signs of abating. Drinkers are more experimental than ever and desperate to try quirky new beers that can demonstrate provenance and heritage. But two obvious challenges arise for newcomers to the market.

In the mid-2000s the Hunter Valley was home to some of Australia’s most successful volume brands, from Tyrrell’s Long Flat to Mount Pleasant’s Elizabeth. The region’s winemakers were raking in orders from around the world and enjoying huge growth as a result, but they were not particularly happy. 

Gin: Natural selection

09 November, 2017

After witnessing the advent of baobab gin, hop gin, cocoa gin, gin with ants in it, nettle gin and seaweed gin, you could be forgiven for thinking the flavour conveyor belt had run out of options. You would be wrong.

Surely “no/low-alcohol drinks” would be at the front of the queue if ever a category were in need of a sexier name. But this compilation of drinks – which includes lower or alcohol- free variants of cider, beer, wine and even spirits – has attracted considerably more interest lately.

Sleeping with the enemy

09 November, 2017

Over in Ireland a 300-strong group of independent off-licence owners has aligned itself with the health lobby in a bid to prevent supermarkets wiping them out.

It’s the time of year when Halloween paraphernalia masks the fact that retailers are already in full Christmas mode, yet we know that the pumpkins on shelf will soon magically transform into festive delights.

Cider Report: Golden Child

03 November, 2017

People are now discovering and making innovative ciders all around the world and here in Britain fans are keen to reinstate this country’s position as one of the leaders of the category. This year annual cider sales rose to a three year high, topping the £1 billion mark for the first time since 2014.

“What’s the difference between an English wine merchant and a terrorist?” says Australian Vintage’s award-winning winemaker, Peter Hall. “You can negotiate with a terrorist.” 

Chile raises its game

14 September, 2017

In the uncertain political and economic times created by Brexit, Chile looks like a wine- supplying country that could bring a bit of reassurance and calm to the market.

The fall and rise of Sumoll

14 September, 2017

In the heart of cava country a once-loved grape variety that nearly went the way of the dodo is enjoying a remarkable renaissance. Sumoll, known locally as the Pinot Noir of the Mediterranean due to its thin skin and diva-like antics on the

Trade thinks beyond borders

14 September, 2017

Brexit dominated discussions at the Wine & Spirit Trade Association's annual conference, which took place 12 September. At the event key speakers were brought together to discuss implications for the drinks trade: 

Focused approach

14 September, 2017

A focus on local ales, craft beer and mini-kegs has seen Morrisons’ beer category outperform the market and post 4.5% year-on- year sales growth. DRN travelled to Yorkshire to meet the buyers, John Morris and James French, and get the lowdown on the success the retailer has enjoyed after a sweeping range review.

Plastic has conquered the world. From manufacturing to retail, its presence is felt in virtually every stage of the supply chain. The soft drinks industry has been particularly quick on the uptake, with plastic bottles the pack solution of choice for some of the world’s biggest brands.

South Africa secured a resounding victory when DRN recently polled 200 independent merchants in a bid to find which countries’ wines are performing best in the sector. It finished ahead of Italy, Argentina and Spain as the country growing sales in the strongest fashion and it is easy to see why. Quality has improved drastically in recent years. Classics from well-established regions are winning plaudits, a dynamic new wave of winemakers is pushing boundaries and producing intriguing offerings and at the very top end scores from critics speak for themselves. 

Celebrating women in wine

15 August, 2017

Celebrating the record of the business community on gender equality can be a trying endeavour as women are still massively under-represented in boardrooms. Female chief execs run just 7% of FTSE 100 companies and that percentage drops for the FTSE 250. Women account for a quarter of seats on FTSE 100 boards, but the increase has mainly been among non-executives who do not have their fingers on the buttons that matter. The notion that middle-aged, rich, white men run the show is impossible to ignore, and the issue has tongues wagging again after the BBC published details of its highest earners and revealed that two-thirds of top earners are male. 

In 1973 New Zealand was selling almost 100% of its dairy products to the UK and had been doing so for a century. Then it received a call to say the market was closed because Britain had joined the EU, and it had to embark on the long and strenuous process of forging new trade deals with countries across the world.

Virtual reality is changing the world, from reducing errors made during surgery to bringing schoolbooks to life and enabling us to browse shops from the comfort of our own homes. It is an exciting bandwagon full of tech firms, rollercoaster designers, casino operators, neurosurgeons and Hollywood execs.

Buzzing Abruzzo

17 July, 2017

Abruzzo is a spectacular region full of picture- perfect villages and Roman remains nestled amid dramatic, mountainous scenery, but it remains something of a hidden gem for tourists. The resulting lack of foreign influence means it offers a window to an Italian lifestyle that has not changed for centuries.

Botanical Radical

17 July, 2017

The UK gin category has enjoyed astronomical growth in the past few years, driven by innovative brands that have pushed the boundaries around taste, price and serve. One of its biggest success stories is Brockmans, which caused a stir when it was launched in 2009.

Step aside niche beers and artisan gin – we are about to see a raft of craft ciders vying for shelf space, according to two cider experts.

A surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn among Canterbury’s students saw the city’s parliamentary constituency fall to Labour in June’s general election for the the first time in a century.

Britain is veering towards a situation where guidelines will state that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, a leading commentator has warned.

Germany's ripple effect

17 July, 2017

Finding German wines on retailers’ shelves used to be like playing Where’s Wally? But while you still need an eagle eye, this is clearly changing. Across market sectors, a shift is happening, quietly but convincingly.

The UK cocktail culture is booming, according to industry experts, and a wider range of on-trade outlets than ever are upping their game with exotic mixed drinks. The challenge for retailers is to replicate this in the off-trade, according to Hi-Spirits managing director Dan Bolton.

It sometimes seems like the whole brewing industry has gone daft for craft. The redrawn landscape of the British brewing industry has led many of the more established family-owned producers to rethink their approaches to the market.

Brands need provenance to survive in the modern cider category: those that can demonstrate a strong back- story and sense of place are thriving and those that cannot are falling by the wayside. British consumers are becoming more discerning about the products they are purchasing and are looking for genuine imports and local, independent producers, and that is a strong factor in Kopparberg’s success. It might not be a brand many in the UK immediately associate with heritage and provenance, but it has a back- story to rival any drinks brand on the market.

Denis O’Flynn was the managing director at Pernod Ricard UK and chairman of the Wine & Spirit Trade Association. Here he discusses how to motivate a workforce within an already successful business to spur them on to greater heights.

Italian Renaissance

08 June, 2017

Prosecco has enjoyed a remarkable rise towards ubiquity in recent times, thanks to its uncomplicated taste and its status as an affordable luxury. “I’ll be there in a Prosecco,” laugh Brits to one another. “My superpower is making Prosecco disappear. It’s a classy and elegant drink. Two pints of Prosecco, please.”

Craft beer is on everyone’s lips and it’s good news for both UK and global producers of all sizes. It would be impossible to fit a description of every beer launch into this feature, so suffice it to say there are many and the flavours are diverse.

We know that people are increasingly drinking less, but when they do drink they want premium options. On days when alcohol is off the menu this rule still applies – and in the soft drinks sector it’s the premium options that are soaring.

The lower the better

08 June, 2017

The low-alcohol drinks market has had more false starts than the average running of the Grand National. The first false dawn in the 1980s foundered on the triple whammy of poor product quality, a sceptical public and the absence of any social pressure other than not getting caught out by a breathalyser test.

I Heart Feels the Love

08 June, 2017

Copestick Murray’s I Heart range has taken the market by storm since its launch in 2011 and annual retail sales have now broken through the £45 million barrier (Nielsen). It has surged into the UK’s top 20 wine brands and has the bestselling Prosecco and Pinot Grigio in impulse.

Innovation in wine

08 June, 2017

The London Wine Fair has shrunk somewhat in recent years – partly a reflection of consolidation in the market. Companies such as PLB and Bottle Green, which previously hawked their wares from some of the largest stands, are among the firms that have been swallowed up.

Whisky: Held in honour

08 June, 2017

Mark Angus, retail sales manager of whisky distributor Gordon & MacPhail’s shop in Elgin, has just been made a Keeper of the Quaich in honour of his special commitment to the Scotch whisky industry.

Craft beer in America is still buzzing. The number of breweries is increasing at a rate of more than two a day and the movement now accounts for 12.3% of the national beer market. It’s a remarkable success story, given that it has grown from nothing in less than 40 years.

Asda has hit headlines of late for selling a huge amount of £10 Champagne, offering three slabs of lager for £20 and stocking six bottles of branded wine for £24. It has consistently offered the most competitive prices on spirits and recently raised eyebrows when it unveiled a £5 fizz called Progrigio.

One million vines are being planted across England in 2017 to meet soaring demand for homegrown bubbly and still wines from grapes such as Bacchus and Pinot Noir. That is enough to fill Hyde Park, and the names of the producers planting the vines gives cause for excitement. 

More sparkling wine is making its way into our fridges, thanks to the nation’s insatiable love of fizz, but Champagne is struggling to attract any value growth, with a drop of 7% since June last year (IRI).

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Bestway could take Bargain Booze back to its roots

Sir Anwar Pervez didn’t earn a place on The Sunday Times Rich List without spotting a good bargain – and in the fallout from the monumental collapse of Conviviality he’s got one in both name and spirit with the acquisition of Bargain Booze.

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