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Independents see double-digit growth over festive season

Published:  04 January, 2013

Early indications suggest independent merchants' sales were healthily up on last year across the festive season, with the southern part of the country performing particuarly well.

Reporting a record Christmas, with growth of 44%, is Surrey-based Taurus Wines. Cambridge Wine Merchants has reported a "great end to the year", with sales in November and December growing 24% and sales in 2012 growing 10% overall compared to 2011 and The Oxford Wine Company has reported festive sales were up 13% on last year.

Ted Sandbach, managing director of The Oxford Wine Company, said he was "extremely encouraged". "I thought sales would be level on last year, as it's highly competitive out there, but figures for us just keep going up and up."

Sandbach's sales of Champagne were hit on the back of supermarket offers, but Claret and Burgundy sales were reported to be good, with consumers opting for quality.

Hal Wilson, managing director of Cambridge Wine Merchants, said the company saw particularly good sales for Bordeaux, the South of France, Spain, spirits and whisky. But sales of New Zealand and Chilean wines were down compared to last year, along with beer.

Wilson said: "It has been a difficult year for many retailers and price promoting by supermarkets has stripped more profitability out of the wine business. Indies have done much this year to promote their strengths to consumers and point out their needs to suppliers."

Wilson added: "Drinking less but better has been a joined up message from indies and contrasts to the discount and multipack promotions of the supermarket."

Rupert Pritchett, owner of Taurus Wines, said while he'd like to say its 44% growth was due to a carefully planned and well-executed marketing campaign, it was in fact "purely down to blind luck and largely because a brace of local competitors decided to surrender and close their doors".

He added: "This part of Surrey has had far more indies than the area can sustain for a while and it is has been obvious that the less well-funded, well-established companies have been looking vulnerable, although we had expected them to fight on through Christmas. I suspect there are one or two more who will fold during the course of 2013. We also picked up a brace of solid wholesale accounts from Waverley's demise which should prove helpful on-going business."

Summing up the year, he said sales were up overall despite being very down in April and May due to the weather. In terms of trends, Pritchett said there was a "distinct" lack of sales of the top-end wines and the customer's focus seems to have switched to the sub £10 bracket.

"Supermarket Champagne deals had some effect both in actual lost sales but more in terms affecting customer expectations. But other than that with the exception of Waitrose, who can be a big problem, we don't lose many customers to supermarkets - the strong deals from The Wine Society, Majestic and other indies being far more of an issue," he added.

Further north in Preston, Huntely's Farm based Barrica Wines broke level on last year. Owner Jane Cuthbertson said she was happy with the result in what she deems to be a competitive and subdued market.

"Champagne didn't do as well as last year because of silly supermarket offers. But Prosecco went through the roof and we sold plenty of New World wine this year," she said.

Cheshire based merchant Corks Out, saw Jan to Dec sales slightly up. Owner Ruth Yates said with the bad summer weather and current climate, she is "happy" with the result.

"The year could have been better and the weather didn't help this year, however, our year end is March 31st so we still have three months to go," she said. Yates added, over Christmas it sold more Portuguese, Champagne and South African wine than expected and less French, Chilean, sparkling wine (excluding Champagne) and Port than expected.

Yates said that while most merchants think 2013 is going to be a similar year as 2012, she feels that it's about "what you make it". "Therefore for Corks Out, 2013 will be better than 2012, just as 2012 was better than 2011. We have to appeal to trends, focus and innovate and try to have a point of difference, brand reassurance and service is an important factor, you can't afford to let that slip. Most of all try we not to be everything to everyone, we have found our niche now we will continue to grow it," she said.

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