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Looking Ahead: Michael Saunders, C&C Group

Published:  08 August, 2022

With the first half of 2022 already history, Harpers asked key trade figures to highlight the current challenges, ongoing trends and opportunities.

We continue our series with insights from Michael Saunders, Head of Partnerships, C&C Group.

How ‘back to normal’ are you as a business?

After the challenges faced by the trade over the past couple of years, I’m happy to say we are back to normal. Considering the external factors at play in the world currently, no doubt there will be bumps along the road. But we are confident that we have things in place: the right proposition, great products and fantastic reach around the UK that really sets us apart.

How, if at all, have drinking habits changed post-lockdown?

We were seeing it a bit before the pandemic, but I think consumers being at home for the best part of two years has meant local products are even more popular. They are also still excited by what they can’t recreate at home – a fresh pint or interesting cocktails, and are attracted to venues that can deliver an experience. And the significant growth in English wines is really phenomenal.

How has the first half of 2022 been when compared to the same period in pre-pandemic 2019?

Good… some variations, but the trajectory is good – albeit there is a worrying narrative on the cost of living that does cause concern as people review discretionary spending.

What were the highs and lows for your own business in the first six months of 2022?

Highs were the trade getting back to normal after a difficult Christmas and bringing on some fantastic new agencies (like Gerard Bertrand), celebrating our 40th anniversary (can it really be that long ago?). Lows are all around the macro challenges that the trade as a whole is facing – thank goodness for the great work of the WSTA in supporting our industry.

What, currently, are the biggest challenges for the trade in general?

The trade is seeing unprecedented challenges driven by a range of issues, which are creating a proper storm – from labour shortages to delays in global shipping and the cost of living crisis, [which is] impacting consumer demand. Our trade is increasingly fighting hard to deliver great service, with the right products, while operating in a very difficult environment.

What are your priorities and predictions business-wise for the second half of 2022?

Growing our great range of wines and spirits and continuing to deliver a solid and reliable customer service.

What will the focus be on with regard to your portfolio (and any updates), and why?

You will have to wait and see! But we are focusing on growing Bibendum’s artisan portfolio, focusing on what it does best, selling unique and interesting wines. We also want to increase our portfolio of agency brands that are sold across our distribution businesses, (Tennent’s, Matthew Clark and Bibendum).

For you, what are the most significant emerging trends in the wine & spirits worlds?

With more and more consumers drinking less, there will be more no and low products in more BWS categories. The beer category is miles ahead of wine, but we are seeing some fantastic products come onto the market that will appeal to the health-conscious consumer.

What innovations in the drinks world do you believe will have the most impact going forward?

Innovations in sustainable and lightweight packaging is going to be hugely important and will make a big difference to our industry. ESG and how we work with producers at C&C in terms of sustainability is one of our biggest priorities this year, and we’ve already rolled out changes in how we manufacture our brands. Innovations in this area are crucial for the trade, and we must work together to find solutions.

Lastly, if you could make one change in legislation/red tape/tax tomorrow, what would you choose?

I would beg for changes dominated by the word ‘simplicity’. Seemingly an impossible ask.

Quick-fire questions:

Bordeaux or Burgundy?


Riesling or Chardonnay?


USA, OZ or South Africa?

South Africa

Cocktails or slow sipping spirit?


English fizz or Champagne?


Favourite fast/junk food and drink pairing?

After the recent heat, great rosé from Provence with everything