The number of independent buyers at this month’s London Wine Fair was up 25% on last year and exhibitors were effusive in their praise for hardworking indies.
Several distributors told OLN they have taken on extra staff, overhauled their infrastructure and revamped their ranges to ensure they offer independents as strong a service as possible.
Patrick McGrath MW, managing director at Villa Maria and Taittinger supplier Hatch Mansfield, said: “We are putting more and more focus on the independents.
“Good quality independents are doing extremely well. Cambridge Wine Merchants, Oxford Wine and Corks Out are showing great growth.
“There are a lot of great ex- Thresher independents doing really well and that’s great to see – some with a few shops and some one-man bands.
“I look after a shop just outside Oxford called Eynsham Cellars. It is a great example. Two guys who work their socks off.
“We know we need to target more independents. We can give them a personalised service in the same way our national account managers work with Tesco and Waitrose and so on.
The independents team has a different brief with different wines.”
Castelnau Wine Agencies, formerly Patriarche, has doubled its sales force in a bid to tackle independents.
Buckingham Schenk was at the LWF showing all its brands targeted at the independents together for the first time, under the banner Buckingham Selection.
Managing director Jon Pepper
MW said: “This is a new direction we have been taking for the past year or so.”
World Wine Agencies was exhibiting for the first time since teaming up with Hayward Bros to offer a broader portfolio to its independent clients. Director Nicky Burston said: “We are 100% exclusive to the independent channel so we have total transparency for our independent customers.”
Andrew Steele, director at Connoisseur Wines, added: “The quality independents are making huge strides. We have expanded the sales team to cover them and give them support.”
To help independents he is urging all his winemakers to visit as many as stores as possible to run tastings for consumers.
Steele said: “The wineries realise they have to do tastings in the trade. Retailers need it. Their punters are up for these sorts of events.”
McGrath at Hatch Mansfield is also pleased to see Conviviality and Oddbins following through on ambitious expansion plans.
“There is an opportunity for communities and villages to have a small, focused wine merchant, but with the extra buying power of a big group,” he said.
“It’s great that Oddbins wants more stores and Bargain Booze is buying Rhythm & Booze stores. I understand it has a target to get many more Wine Rack stores. I think that’s fantastic.”