Considering the whole picture

A good wholesaler relationship goes well beyond pricing, firms say

THERE’S no two ways about it – keeping up with today’s drinks trends can be a real challenge.
From knowing which gins to stock, to the creation of a seasonal wine offer, to deciding how best to market your drinks range to customers, there’s no shortage of challenges facing operators.

And so, arguably, licensees can only stand to benefit from developing a strong relationship with their chosen wholesaler.

• Operators should ensure they stock wine varietals beyond their personal favourites to ensure all styles and tastes are catered for, firms say.

That was the message from various wholesale firms, who told SLTN there are a number of benefits a good wholesaler can bring to an outlet’s operation.

Miriam Spears, sales director at Alliance Wine, said that a good relationship with wholesalers is “crucial” to business.

“If there is a relationship, there is understanding of the needs of the business,” said Spears.
“If there is understanding, the results are faster and better. [A] good supplier will share all their knowledge and expertise – [they] will add professional advice as part of the deal.
“They don’t just sell.”

Echoing this view, Alan Hay, sales director at Tennent’s, said operators “want to work with a wholesaler who can help their outlet run as effectively and efficiently as possible”.

If there is a relationship, there is understanding of the needs of the business.

“A wholesaler should also be responsive and supportive to its customers, understand their business requirements, offer great customer service, [offer] a comprehensive range and be competitive on prices,” he said.
Advice on drinks products isn’t the only advantage of a strong relationship with a wholesaler.

Stuart Ellis, UK sales manager at wholesaler and independent whisky bottler Gordon & MacPhail, said: “To stay on top of the market, in touch with trends and aware of developments in other factors, such as legislation, it is good practice and hugely beneficial to have a strong positive working relationship with your wholesaler; this relationship keeps both you and your team ‘ahead of the curve’ to allow you to deliver an exceptional service to your customers.”

Therefore, when choosing which wholesaler to work with, pub and bar operators should strive for “a partnership rather than simply a sale with no future”, according to Niall Deveney of Dunns Food & Drink.

He added that any wholesaler worth their salt “should be looking to provide them (operators) with a product mix that will fly out of their venue and then support them with consistent, reliable customer service and value added services”.

In the end, Deveney reckons it’s about operators and wholesalers “developing an understanding of how both parties can work together”.

In order to truly reap the benefits of a good wholesaler, operators must be willing to listen, according to Toby Sigouin, wine buyer at Glasgow-based wholesaler, Inverarity Morton.
He said operators should “trust the knowledge and expertise of your account manager – listen and take the advice”.

In terms of drinks, specifically wines, Sigouin advised licensees to consider stocking varietals beyond their personal favourites.

“Don’t only stock wines that you personally like – fall into that trap and you risk omitting some styles of wine from your list,” he said.

“Make sure all styles and tastes are catered for.”
Spears of Alliance Wine took a similar stance, and advised operators to “keep wine lists simple”. “Add something new to each category to keep things interesting,” said Spears.

Beyond wine, there are some key trends that operators would be wise to pay attention to.
For instance, Ellis of Gordon & MacPhail reported that single malt whisky and gin “are both performing incredibly well”.

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Don’t forget the tech

Year on year, there are new tools and technological advancements that help the on-trade improve business. Here are some of the recent advancements wholesalers said have been transforming the trade.

EPOS – Deveney of Dunns Food & Drink said that EPOS systems “are providing more information than ever and can help with everything down to up-selling during service”.

APPS – Deveney added that digital apps “are driving business into venues, and provide the opportunity to reach the new digitally-savvy consumer in their natural environment”.

Wine preservation systems – Toby Sigouin of Inverarity Morton said that “great innovation” within preservation systems is allowing operators “to offer a good range of wines by the glass on a seasonal basis”.

New booking systems – Billy Bell of Wine Importers said new computer systems are facilitating speedier deliveries.


“Within the malt whisky category consumers are demanding products with more provenance and trading up within this category,” he said.

“Gin is in a similar position; consumer demand is for more local brands that they can make a personal connection with, whilst exploring both categories looking for traditional and ‘new’ innovative cocktails.

“We are seeing some movement in craft vodka as well as small-batch international whiskies including bourbon, Indian, Japanese and French.”

Deveney of Dunns Food & Drink has also observed a strong demand for spirits.
He said that flavoured and premium spirits “are proving popular”, with tequila “becoming increasingly popular as a cocktail base”.

Craft and ‘premiumisation’ are said to have caused “a revival” in demand for cider, according to Deveney.
He said the new craft and heritage offers coming to the market are “offering plenty of visual cues for operators to talk about”.

With some sunny days already in the bank from May, many will be hoping there’s a couple more in store this summer.

And Billy Bell of Wine Importers reckons that, with peak summertime trade fast approaching, “reliable service is key” no matter what wholesaler operators decide to go with.

“Know that you can speak to someone in authority easily and quickly if you’re not happy or need a favour,” said Bell.