Amathus Drinks has shared plans to open two new stores at the beginning of 2024 as the retailer and distributor looks to expand its bricks-and-mortar offering.
Speaking to Drinks Retailing at the 2023 Amathus portfolio trade tasting, commercial director Tom Miller said that despite the impact of Covid and nationwide financial pressures, there is still great potential in physical stores.
“Our retail stores are doing well and our web business is growing massively. Home drinking and retail are a strong proposition.
“What we really enjoy about it is having a direct relationship with consumers.”
Amathus currently has multiple stores across London, as well as sites in Brighton and Bath. According to Miller, two new stores will open in Oxford and Wimbledon in the first quarter of 2024, with the Amathus team on the hunt for more potential London venues. “We think we can get about 20 stores in total,” he added.
Although the pandemic saw a boom in ecommerce, Miller thinks that bricks-and-mortar’s potential to provide a guided shopping experience will ensure its staying power in the industry.
“Each Amathus store has about 5000 different products. It can be overwhelming even for the most experienced consumer.
“Our store colleagues are all WSTA trained and have a real passion for drinks, so it’s almost like a curated shopping experience.
“Our ambition with our retail offering is to make it the customer’s best experience of their day.”
While Amathus currently has a stronger focus on hospitality, Miller shared that the company is looking to boost its off-trade operations considerably over the coming years.
“Currently, about 75% of our operations are supplying to bars and restaurants, while about 25% is ecommerce and bricks-and-mortar retail. We’re looking to move that to about 50/50, which will involve expanding our stores.”
Miller said this decision was partially influenced by the pandemic: “A big reason behind this plan is risk aversion. We don’t want to have all our eggs in one basket, particularly following Covid when the on-trade closed down.”
Elsewhere, Miller explained that retail provides an opportunity to tap into the rising popularity of home drinking occasions.
“From our data, I would suggest that more people are drinking at home. While people are still going out, others want to have a great drink and a great experience at home, and with such a large range, we’re in a position to offer that.”
Turning to the tipples of choice among the Amathus customer base, Miller said that the business aims to stay ahead of the curve by providing options for adventurous consumers.
“When it comes to wine, you can get a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Argentine Malbec from anywhere,” he said. “So we like to find those wines that are new and interesting to UK consumers,” he continued, mentioning Greece and Portugal as particularly strong growth areas.
“People come to us to know what’s new, and we aim to provide a space for these producers to make their way into the UK market.”
In spirits, Miller notes tequila and agave-based drinks as the category to watch: “It’s our second biggest category behind whisky, and it’s the premium end of tequila that is seeing the most growth.”
Mentioning gin, he said that while the category is undeniably oversaturated, sales are still up compared to last year.
“However, there isn’t enough diversity in the category to warrant having such a big range anymore so we’re looking to bring it down and make space for more niche spirits.”
Following alcohol duty changes last month, the industry has been left concerned that sales of categories with higher abvs, such as wine and spirits, will be negatively impacted.
Miller, however, thinks that consumers will continue to favour quality products regardless of abv: “I think the biggest opportunity comes with the categories that have great drinks to offer, and then abv almost becomes irrelevant.
“For any category to grow, whether that be wine, low/no, spirits, the drinks have to be great in their own right. If people are looking for drinks with lower abvs, then that’s fine, but I think that offering quality products, regardless of category or strength, is the key.”