A tough year for en primeur was the main contributor to an operating loss and falling turnover for royal wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd.

But managing director Hugh Sturges told OLN that the company’s retail operations were “steady” and that it is optimistic about the long-term stability of the company.

“As one of the biggest players in the market, we take the good years and we take the bad in en primeur,” said Sturges, as Berry Bros reported an operating loss of £2.8 million on turnover which fell 16% to £138 million.

In the UK, Berry Bros operates a bin end warehouse in Basingstoke, Hants, in addition to its flagship store in London’s well-heeled St James’s district.

“It’s now a very small part of our overall business but it was steady,” said Sturges. “London was slightly up year on year despite refurbishment going on through the year.

“Basingstoke is pretty steady. It’s level: it’s not exciting but it’s not suffering.”

Sturges said gross profit was up 3%, reflecting a change in product mix in the business, including increased emphasis on premium spirits.

“We sold Cutty Sark [to Edrington, in 2010] for a significant amount of money and have reinvested that in developing super-premium spirits with King’s Ginger, Glenrothes, No 3 gin and Pink Pigeon rum. They’re all trading well in various markets and we’re investing around them.”

Berry Bros was also hit during the financial year by one-off costs relating to a legal dispute with a former distributor in Hong Kong.

Sturges said he was optimistic of a return to profit in the future. “I’m absolutely not concerned about the £2.8 million figure,” he said. “We have to invest in the future rather than raising capital from other sources – that’s the way Berry Bros has always done things.

“We’re using the profit from Cutty Sark to create an opportunity in premium spirits and develop our fine wine business in the Far East.”