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Harpers indies survey reveals widespread price rises

Published:  30 August, 2023

Harpers’ latest survey canvassed the UK’s independent retailers to ask which cost pressures are affecting them most and to what extent. Now, the results are in – and we can the report that price rises have become a necessary evil for the majority of businesses.

The duty hikes, which came into effect on 1 August, carry serious implications for all parts of the UK alcohol industry. Large and small, both off-premise and on, the increase of £0.44 per 75cl bottle of wine between 11.5% and 14.5% will hurt both consumers and businesses alike, at a time when the UK economy is suffering from an usually complex and challenging mix of pressures.

As Harpers revealed in a recent story however, independent merchants, long considered the backbone of the quality drinks trade in the UK, were woefully underrepresented among those consulted by government over the duty changes now hitting businesses.

With pressures coming from all angles – and staffing, energy and logistics costs in there, too – it comes as little to no surprise that a vast majority of retailers have had to put up their prices. As our survey shows, over 50% of businesses report prices going up already, while the majority of respondents in the ‘other’ category said that prices would be going up once new stock comes in.

According to our data, RRP has risen by approximately £1 for wine and by up to £2 for spirits for the majority of both categories. While this may come as no surprise to the trade however, it will come as a surprise to most consumers, who were largely unaware of hikes before they landed on 1 August.

From comments gathered across the nation’s independent retailers, it is clear that duty is indeed leading the squeeze, while sitting shoulder to shoulder with inflationary pressures and the cost-of-living crisis.

One respondent made the claim that “The government has failed independent wine business considerably post-Covid. Inflation is crippling everyone’s spend and drinkers of wine.”

Another said that a panoply of pressures, spanning the cost of living (impacting consumer spend), duty (and knock-on increases), inflation (pushing up prices for businesses), staffing, energy costs, issues associated with shipping and logistics are “all impacting sales. It is unusual to have so many factors conspiring at the same time”.

“The drop-off in customer confidence is most worrying – the duty increase is just another blow on top of that,” a third said.

As ever, indie retailers are doing what they do best in times of crisis: leaning on their quality offer, while also demonstrating their trademark resilience. Many respondents admitted they are working with producers to lower abv of products, while striving as much as possible, not to lower the bar on quality at the same time.

From the results, there does appear to be a lack of optimism going into Christmas. The majority of respondents either stated that December will be ‘worse’ or ‘about the same’ as last year. As we adjust to the ‘new normal’ on duty however, perhaps things will ease slightly. In the meantime, let’s hope that the last few weeks of summer continue to deliver better weather, both in terms of sunny days and consumer spend.