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Looking Back, Forging Ahead Q&A: Harriet Kininmonth, Bibendum (C&C Group)

Published:  01 September, 2023

Midway through 2023, Harpers is taking stock of yet another turbulent year for the drinks trade, with plenty of highs and lows, so far. We begin to round off our series with Harriet Kininmonth, wine trading director at Bibendum (C&C Group), to find out how the year has gone so far, and what the remainder may bring.


How has business been for you in the first half of 2023 and how do things compare to where you were last year?

Following our annual tasting in January, it was great to see both our customers and producers back doing what they love, tasting products and planning their drinks lists for the year ahead. We came into 2023 focused on supporting customers in what we knew would be a challenging year ahead. It has been well documented that we upgraded our systems earlier this year, which was essential to maintaining our long-term growth plans. It did not come without its challenges, but I am pleased to say that we are out the other side and fully focused on delivering a great H2 for our customers.

How has the cost-of-living crisis played out across the year and what – if anything – have you been able to do to mitigate that?

In the on-trade, we’ve seen a shift in consumer demand, and feedback from our customers is that consumers are being more cautious when spending money on drinks. We’ve been working closely with customers to ensure that they have the right drinks list that represents great value, but also quality as well as driving profitability.

We are still seeing an appetite among consumers for going out, albeit less often but spending more when they do. This is a great opportunity for our premium portfolio, ensuring that our customers have some of our exciting premium wines on their list, that they can encourage guests to trade up to.

What are you most proud of achieving this year? Have you managed to achieve any specific goals?

Our partnership with The Big Issue is one of our proudest achievements as part of C&C group. Employing six people into our business, who faced barriers to employment, is hugely rewarding. This is even more pertinent given the staffing crisis in the UK at the moment. Bringing on some fantastic producers to our portfolio including Yealands, Ste. Michelle Estates and Santo Wines has also been a highlight. Investing in our people has also been a key objective this year, and it’s been so exciting to promote and develop some fantastic talent in our business alongside bringing on some great new hires into the team. We have also relaunched our fine wine list and team – something which has always been at the core of the Bibendum proposition.

And what is the biggest cause for concern?

Recent headwinds for the wine industry, like the new duty changes and effects from Brexit are our biggest obstacles over the next year. Train strikes too are also causing concern for on-trade businesses, particularly in London. All we can do is be as prepared as possible and do everything we can to support our customers and suppliers.

There are also challenges operating across the whole of the UK, where the nations have different approaches to labelling and views on how a deposit scheme should work when finally implemented. As the UK’s largest drinks supplier, this adds significant complexity, particularly as we also operate in Ireland. This means we have to work closely with our suppliers who import products across the UK and Ireland to ensure all products are compliant with new regulations.

What are the biggest drinking trends at the moment, and how do you expect that to change going into the autumn?

There is still very much a thirst for sustainable and ethical products, as consumers look to buy products they can trust. Low & no products are also still popular and this goes beyond just beer and spirits. As more and more consumers look to moderate their drinking, the range of low/no products continues to grow and move into different categories, and I don’t think this will change going into the autumn.

Is Covid now a distant dream, or are you still seeing lingering effects?

Luckily, it seems that we have fully recovered from Covid, although the on-trade is still seeing lingering effects, battling with staff retention and the cost of moving goods. I would say that it has fundamentally changed the wine industry and the UK on-trade. Agile working, adjusted work, travel and socialising patterns, with more people going out during the week and consumers looking for an experience and not just a meal, and a rise in the popularity of local businesses, are just a few examples.

Any predictions for the second half of the year?

No predictions, but I think the on-trade could really benefit from a ‘normal’ Christmas – not affected by train strikes or Covid.

Quick fire questions…

Old World or New?


Cocktail or slow sippin’ spirit? 


Vermentino or Vermouth?


Low or no?


Three star or bistro?


Desert island tipple?

Chilled glass of Chardonnay, a Manzanilla sherry (to hopefully pair with some of the fresh seafood I will be catching on my desert island).