Drinks Retailing has teamed up with the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) to call on the government to retain the temporary tax bracket for wine
An arrangement that sees all wines between 11.5% and 14.5% abv taxed at an assumed strength of 12.5% abv, is due to expire at the end of January 2025. The temporary measure came into force alongside wider duty changes on August 1.
WSTA chief executive Miles Beale says the trade group is “hell-bent on trying as hard as we can” to ensure the temporary arrangement becomes a permanent move. “We lobbied to achieve that concession, but we want it to become permanent,” says Beale. “We have 15 months left to make sure that it becomes a permanent state of affairs.”
Following two WSTA panel discussions at our Specialist Importers’ Trade Tasting (SITT) events and extensive research by the WSTA consultant Simon Cairns, along with DR editor Lucy Britner, retailers and importers from across the trade have gathered to speak out against removing the bracket as the looming burden of more red tape will create extra work for already stretched teams.
The trade is also concerned about wine quality, and some have said consumer choice could eventually be weakened.
STEVE FINLAN, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, THE WINE SOCIETY
“We support the WSTA in calling for the temporary tax bracket for wine to be maintained. The tax hike introduced in August this year is already having an impact on businesses and consumers, and to make the system even more complex shows how out of touch government is with industry. At The Wine Society we continue to hold prices and not pass on the duty rise to our members. A further change to the duty regime would make this position impossible to maintain. We are not asking our winemakers to lower alcohol content in wine as we believe this has a negative effect on drinking quality. We already have a wide range of lower-alcohol wines. We are aware that many businesses are actively trying to reduce alcohol, another unwanted side effect of this thoughtless change to the duty regime and with long-term repercussions for the wine industry in the UK.”
HAL WILSON, CO-FOUNDER, CAMBRIDGE WINE MERCHANTS
“Of the 1,932 wines we have in stock, 1,662 – or 86% – fall in the current easement bracket of 11.5%-14.5% abv. So currently no one needs to calculate the duty for nearly nine out of 10 wines we buy, whether we import them, or another company does, as it is a fixed £2.67 per 75cl.
“The current easement means that wine fits the new policy objectives pretty well, but does not cause the huge administrative burden that full implementation would entail.
“Data provided by producers and other importers is currently weak when it comes to abv: wines can and will vary in abv; other export markets don’t require abvs for tax calculation purposes, and so it is sufficient for abvs to be included on documents generated after the purchase order is made.
“The UK buyer needs to know the abv in order to accurately create the purchase order. Even if we receive the abvs from producers they may diff er from what appears on the label.”
NISH KOTECHA, DIRECTOR, MYLIKO WINES
“Regrettably, it is the discerning consumer who bears the brunt of these changes, with a diminishing array of choices, as numerous small-scale wine producers worldwide are increasingly disinclined to engage with the intricacies of the UK market.
“Alcoholic content in wine can fluctuate within a single vintage, with minimal repercussions on overall quality. The impending duty reform, if enacted, would create pronounced challenges in pricing for importers, retailers and, ultimately, consumers. The ensuing effect would lead to misleading pricing structures and introduce unwarranted intricacies to our industry.”
PHIL INNES, MANAGING DIRECTOR, LOKI WINES
“It is imperative to keep the brackets as they are. Removing them is certain to greatly increase the burden of administration on already stretched businesses. It is a needlessly bureaucratic system and means that every year we will have to potentially change all our prices based on a fractional increase in alcohol volume.”
PETER MITCHELL MW, WINE DIRECTOR, JEROBOAMS
“In our shops it will create considerable extra work and wastage, as prices, and POS, may need to be changed from vintage to vintage. Unlike spirits brands or beers, wine is not made to a recipe and alcohol will vary from year to year. While there are ways to manipulate this, for more artisanal products that is not necessarily an option. So, with narrow tax brackets we will see price changes on many products as they change vintage and, with up to 800 wines on the shelf, this is going to lead to considerable day-to-day price changes. Customers do not necessarily understand tax regimes and will be confused and upset by the number of price changes. While I don’t see the relatively small adjustments affecting our average customers’ choices, it will cost us time and money to administer and will require constant explanation.
“At the lower end of the trade side of the business, we are already being off ered lower-alcohol versions of wines from our suppliers. Generally, the quality is lower with these wines that have been made to be lower abv as less ripe fruit has been used, but the tax saving will drive demand. The end result will be less revenue for the Treasury and lower-quality wines at the lower end of the market – a classic lose-lose situation.”
JESSICA HUTCHINSON, MANAGING DIRECTOR, VINDEPENDENTS
“When the temporary tax bracket is removed and the multi-tiered tax bracket introduced, we will see huge amounts of additional administration, putting a burden on producers and retailers. It may seem like a great idea to some bright spark in government who knows nothing about the wine trade and thinks people will suddenly start producing, selling and drinking low-alcohol wines, but as we all know, that is not the case. Not only does it increase paperwork and admin burden, but it won’t change the actual alcohol level of the wines people consume. With climate change pushing abvs up, there are only limited styles of wines which are drinkable with low alcohol. The others have a choice of putting the incorrect abv on the label or growing grapes at bigger yields and producing more diluted, lower-quality wines. Neither of these seem like a great option.”
EUAN MACKAY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, FELLS
“The recent increases in wine duty that came into effect in August 2023 have already had a significant impact on the industry as consumers struggle to make ends meet in these difficult inflationary times. The proposal to increase duty rates from February 2025 will only add further pressure to an industry that is already facing unprecedented levels of bureaucracy, red tape, and a growing tax burden.
“Under this new full duty rate, vintage variations leading to different alcohol levels will add further bureaucracy and costs right through the supply chain.
“Although some of our larger, family-owned producers such as Oxford Landing from Australia and Torres from Spain are working hard to mitigate some of these increases by developing wines with lower alcohol levels, the majority of our suppliers have not been able to go down this route, resulting in higher prices and reduced depletion rates. We believe that this will ultimately lead to reduced levels of choice for the consumer in the long term which, in turn, will put pressure on businesses like ours and others to be able invest in our industry.
“We strongly urge the government to reconsider its policy on this issue and give some relief to an industry that has already been seriously undermined by the measures implemented in August 2023.”
MARK WRIGGLESWORTH, OWNER, THE GOOD WINE SHOP
“I would certainly support the bracket remaining. We have already endured a sizeable headache with the changes to the system in August, and additional layers of administrative complication if the bracket is removed is the last thing any of us need. It will certainly add more administrative and time costs in liaison with producers on export admin documentation on a vintageto-vintage basis. This will just create further inflationary pressure and damage to the sector where price increases now seem disproportionate to other sectors of the economy. None of this can be helpful as we compete to maintain our existing revenues and even grow in the coming years.”
ROBIN COPESTICK, MANAGING DIRECTOR, FREIXENET COPESTICK
“Some of the most recent duty changes are good – sparkling wine duty coming down to the same level of still wine is very positive. But what I am very much against is the amount of complexity that has been introduced and that complexity is due to increase again when the duty changes next. I don’t think this has been properly thought through. This just creates extra paperwork. I would be in of favour keeping the regulations as they are now.”
BEN KNOLLYS, MANAGING DIRECTOR, HATCH MANSFIELD
“In the Alcohol Excise Duty Review the government conceded that wine was a more natural product than most other alcoholic beverages and that wine producers had an inability to control the amount of sun and, therefore, alcohol. Hatch Mansfield produces one price list in the spring of every year, to enable our customers to have consistency of pricing. If the temporary duty easement is lifted as planned, it will be impossible for us to produce such a price list without the pricing on some wines being incorrect as vintages roll over. No one knows what the weather will do several months ahead.
“It will be an absolute nightmare for our customers, many of them solo operators, who will regularly have to change prices on systems and on shelf to deal with duty changes each vintage. In the on-trade we work with partner wholesalers who also tend to produce one list per annum. Again, this will now be impossible. The on-trade establishments themselves often produce seasonal lists which last six months. The cost price of the wines on the list could change with each vintage, leaving the already struggling on-trade to grapple with the decision of whether to reprint their list on what could be a very regular basis, or to have significant variability in their margins.
“Several customers have asked us, under the new duty regime, to change barcodes every time there is an abv change; some want this just on the outer case, some on the bottle as well. This means we could end up with six SKUs across two vintages of a wine, rather than just one SKU.
“The issue with wine being a natural product with variable abv depending on a number of factors well beyond the producers’ control has not gone away. The government has recognised that this is an issue and given us a temporary easement, but that will not make the implementation of the new system in 2025 any easier as the weather will still be variable.”
MELISSA DRAYCOTT, MANAGING DIRECTOR, GONZALEZ BYASS
“I am totally for the extended easement for reasons widely documented by the WSTA, who I’ve been working closely with on lobbying against the huge duty tax rises already imposed on fortified wines and other wines.”
BRETT FLEMING, MANAGING DIRECTOR, ARMIT WINES
“There is a significant impact on our business. The majority of our wines fall between these brackets, meaning huge expenditure on re-checking our inventory and updating our enterprise resource planning systems. In addition, the impact on future business from the initial increase is already quantifiable, with many of our trade customers heavily impacted by price changes. The large duty increase, coupled with high corporation tax and economic instability, is impacting the UK wine trade and we should be doing all we can to support the industry during this difficult period.”