With less than two weeks to go until the Drinks Retailing Awards 2024, the full list of finalists has been revealed
HENNINGS WINE MERCHANTS
The two stores operated by long-standing Sussex indie Hennings have very distinct personalities. The Pulborough and Petworth stores are only a few miles apart, but the first is led by the Old World, an older customer base and a more traditional feel, while the second has a New World bias, higher bottle spends and a more modern look. The website is shop number three and it’s been given an upgrade in the past year to be a more classy, informative and easy-to-use resource.
LEA & SANDEMAN
Lea & Sandeman has a long-established reputation as one of London’s premier wine shop groups, with five stores across the west of the capital. The past couple of years have seen investment in freshening up both the look of the shops and the wines sold in them, with retail spaces made cleaner and more accessible, and the shelves crammed with additional wines that meet the primary criteria of quality and interest, rather than just filling gaps in the range.
Phil Innes has been one of the indie wine trade’s star entrepreneurs of the past decade, building Loki into a group of three hybrid shops and bars, each moulded to suit the locations in and around Birmingham that they occupy. Each venue is filled with products that explore many of the wine world’s outer reaches, while also catering for those with more traditional tastes. Staff are key to the success of the business and there’s a high level of investment in training and education.
Asda was among the first major retailers to recognise low/no as a multi-hued growth category and give it the space to blossom with special features in its stores. The company continues to respond to the increasing customer demand for variety on the low- and no-alcohol shelves. In the past year it introduced a range of four no-alcohol spirits under its Extra Special own-label badge, selling for just £10 a bottle. Its low/no sections feature lager, ale, spirits, cider, fizz and still wine, and a range of pack sizes.
Morrisons has given the low/no consumer variety and volume, creating a range that attacks the sector from every angle: spirits, fizz, lager, premium bottled ales, still wine, cider and RTDs, with multibuy promotions and multipacks to encourage bulk purchase and range exploration. Like everything Morrisons does there’s strong attention to presentation and availability. Indeed, the range is so broad in some bigger stores it seems shoppers can access as much choice in low/no drink as they can in some full-strength alcohol categories.
Waitrose teamed up with Diageo in 2023 to create bold, dedicated low/no drink fixtures within the BWS aisles of 253 of its stores, in response to a surge in demand for such options among its customers. The sections feature 70 low and no-alcohol products and are easily spotted thanks to bright blue branding and floor vinyls. Space dedicated to low/no was up by 60% across the whole estate. The chain revealed in its 2023-24 Food & Drink Report that sales of low/no drinks were up 23% year on year.
CHRISTOPHER PIPER WINES
So successful was Devon-based Christopher Piper’s pivot to online during the pandemic that it decided to stick exclusively to a digital offering once the world returned to some kind of normal. A small team provides great advice, with 24/7 live chat to assist customers who want to check the delivery terms for the Scottish Highlands or the merits of particular Burgundy vintages. The team also likes to get out into the real world, with a tasting stand at a food festival giving local customers the chance to sample the range.
Shropshire-based Momentum has reinvented its ecommerce platform on the back of rapid growth in the past year, with a contemporary, informative and user-friendly feel. The retailer is a keen advocate of Argentinian wine which makes up almost a quarter of its portfolio, all of which is presented with bespoke tasting notes. The wine range runs to 500-plus, with natural wines an area of increased focus. Momentum has switched to pulp packaging, made from recycled waste.
SOMERSET CIDER CO
What was once the boutique bricks-and-mortar Bristol Cider Shop has evolved into an online operation that comprises the original store’s website and Crafty Nectar, an online cider retail business bought in 2023. For both, cider remains the name of the game, specifically full-juice craft ciders that it aims to take from its south west England heartland to a national audience. Mixed cases are popular as gifts, while cider advent calendars shift volumes of more than 25,000 bottles ahead of the festive season.
Sip’s mission is to seek out the finest new producers and their Champagnes and bring them to a wider audience. It does this by focusing on grower Champagnes from small independent producers, and claims that the 50-odd in its portfolio give it the widest selection on the UK market. Monthly subscription packages with themes such as dosage or oak vinification give it a point of difference, while blogs and newsletters cover interesting topics in the wine world rather than just acting as promotional puffs for the latest additions.
One of the keys to the ongoing success of Virgin Wines is its understanding of its customers’ needs and the provision of multiple ways to buy, including membership and pay-as-you-go. Its Wine Bank scheme helps members spread the cost of buying by earning interest on money deposited, with benefits including free delivery and flexible ordering. A wine advisor service is a trusted source of expertise for many customers. Virgin’s buying team uses customer feedback and monitors market trends to ensure its range continues to deliver.
THE WHISKY EXCHANGE
The spirits retailer’s online business takes the vast range, specialism and expertise of its three London shops to a global audience. The site offers detailed information on spirits categories and an unrivalled portfolio of products, many of them exclusives and new releases that are the result of years cultivating relationships with distilleries and brand owners. The company prides itself on the retention of highly trained staff over many years and has reinforced that with new appointments in the past year to improve its buying and category analysis.
KILL THE CAT
London craft beer emporium Kill the Cat branched out in a big way in 2023 with the opening of a bar and bottle shop at London’s Spitalfi elds Market. Its original site in Brick Lane was already an on/off hybrid affair, but the new location scales up the package with a full food offering, more draught lines and quirky spirits and wines that reflect the established theme of its beer range, to satisfy the curiosity of adventurous consumers.
Just two years after opening its hybrid shop in Aberdeen’s Union Grove, Sugarbird has added venue number two at a site in the city centre. But the South African wine specialist’s focus on the high-spec location hasn’t stopped it honing the package at the original site, which combines a neighbourhood drinking-in experience with the opportunity to browse for bottles to take home, guided by flavour and style headings rather than country divisions.
A year after starting as Vinological in Chester Market Hall, owner Simon Parkinson took over the lease on an old Corks Out store in the city centre’s medieval “rows”, decided on a new name and Vin Santo was born. Though the space is the same as in its previous incarnation, Vin Santo has taken things up a notch, with distinct spaces for retail and on-premise drinking, an upgraded fine wine offering and increased emphasis on organic and natural wines.
One of the most intriguing recent innovations in the convenience sector is Bestway’s investment in dual-fascia stores, combining all-round grocery/ on-the-go credentials with BWS specialism. It began in 2022 with stores that brought together its Costcutter and Bargain Booze brands and took a significant step last year with the arrival of the first site putting the flagship Costcutter fascia alongside Wine Rack, bringing new life to a wine shop brand that was once a major presence on Britain’s high streets.
Franchise formats in convenience can be a bit hit and miss, but a Budgens operator will seldom be found wanting, especially in the BWS aisle. Numerous individual stores have featured in the DRAs in recent years, attracting attention through ranges that punch above their weight, merchandising that’s a cut above for the sector and customer service with that bit extra. A longstanding arrangement with Laithwaites for ranges of premium wines to be sold in Budgens stores adds to their cachet.
The Co-op’s astute choice of locations and steady expansion has thrust it into pole position in the convenience market in recent years, and its innovative approach to BWS is a fitting reflection of its leadership role in the sector. A wine showcase promotion in 2023 included the launch of a Chilean País under its premium Irresistible own-label, created with the input of member customers who’d been invited to meet the producer online during lockdown.
MARKS & SPENCER
Someone in the M&S drinks department clearly understands the importance of the old maxim that customers buy with their eyes. That’s especially noticeable in RTDs, where colour and visual impact play a big part in instant customer engagement, an important element in the high-tempo environment of the retailer’s transport hub outlets. That market is mainly catered for by an array of single-serve packs, but larger bottles of pre-batched cocktails can also be found in its food halls.
Sainsbury’s was one of the first supermarkets to recognise that the mixology trend had a place in the off -trade when it got behind cocktail spirits in a big way over a decade ago. It seems fitting that the chain is now playing a central role in supplying cocktail fans with premium ready-made versions of their favourites. But the retailer’s RTD portfolio runs the gamut, from colourful party drinks that kicked off the category, through spirit-mixer on-trade favourites and modern innovations.
If anything indicates that RTDs are no longer the poor relations in the alcohol aisle, it’s perhaps the advocacy of Waitrose, which has shown leadership by giving exposure to new brands and segments alongside big brand range extensions, particularly in more grown-up sub-categories such as ready-to-serve cocktails. Placing RTDs in chiller units alongside beer, cider and wine has given the category greater exposure and fulfilled more on-the-go shopping missions.
The Co-op has long been way ahead of the game in ethical trading as the world’s biggest Fairtrade wine retailer. Its current Chilean Carménère is made by a woman winemaker backed by a 50% female winemaking team. The Fairtrade premium provides educational bursaries for workers and funds a primary school library. The Co-op’s entire South African wine range is now Fairtrade and it has invested £800,000 in Fairroots, a start-up winery in the country’s Olifants River region.
As the nation’s biggest specialist wine chain it seems only reasonable that Majestic is making sustainably made wines central to its future direction. It saw a 22% spike in sales of organic wine in the first five months of its current financial year and predicts sales will double over the next three years. It has increased its organic range and added 11 vegan-friendly wines to its Chosen by Majestic range. It has also played a role in fostering inclusivity with its Diversity in Wine scholarship programme.
Waitrose is looking at all parts of the supply chain to reduce the carbon footprint of its wine department. Bulk shipping is central but it is also reviewing every aspect of the packaging process, from recycled glass for bottles and labels, through to the glue that’s used to bring the two together. Cans, boxes and pouches are coming increasingly into play. It has removed single-use capsules from its Loved & Found range in a move which could have a long-term ripple effect through the industry.
Amathus is one of the fastest-growing drinks specialists around, now with nine stores, including expansion out of its London heartland to include Bath and Brighton – and there’s a feeling that there’s still more to come from managing director Harry Georgiou and his team. Though widely renowned for its spirits portfolio, there’s been a lot of emphasis on beefing up the wine and beer offerings, giving shop managers a comprehensive range to build a selection to suit their locations.
STIRCHLEY WINES & SPIRITS
Krishan Rajput’s Birmingham indie is best known as a big player on the city’s beer scene, but as the name suggests its roots are as an all-rounder, a role in which the family firm has now entered its fifth decade. In the past year it’s given greater focus to orange and natural wines, mead, tequila and mezcal, low-alcohol and gluten-free beers, cider and rum. A new EPOS system has helped manage this growing inventory, to give it a better understanding of its strengths and weaknesses and improve its online offering.
THE WINE PRESS
Edward Wilson and his team at The Wine Press in Stourbridge appreciate the importance of the little extra touches that make a shopping experience memorable. They’ll help customers to their cars with purchases and offer free gifts with some others. There’s expert advice on hand, or customers are free to browse with assistance from shelf-edge labels that provide a tasting note, style guide and food pairing suggestion. The fascia and forecourt were spruced up in the past year.
Sainsbury’s has a great range in all aspects of the BWS department, but isn’t content to just load up the shelves and let the customers do the work of making sense of it. There’s an over-delivery of informational signage throughout to help customers find their way around and tasting notes on many wines to further ease the selection process. A Discover section highlights interesting products that have the capacity to excite and inspire customers while potentially increasing basket spends. Wine strategically positioned around fresh food aisles does a similar job.
Britain’s biggest supermarket continues to fine-tune its BWS offer to provide its customers with great value and choice across the categories. In wine, it’s in the process of revamping the labels of its Finest premium own-label to give them greater on-shelf impact and better tell the stories behind the wines. In beer, it’s honed craft, premium bottled ale and world beer multibuy deals to a fine art, offering genuine choice and inspiring experimentation. It was a frontrunner in the race to champion low/no and now has one of the most comprehensive selections available on the market.
The fixtures in Waitrose BWS departments are more than mere shelves on which to display stock. There are crate-style gondola ends for wine, backlit shelves that bring energy to spirits, bays with information that suggests the possibility of pairing beer with food, and a feature wall with break-out displays that highlights premium wines in the portfolio. There are chillers for RTDs, beer, white, rosé and fizz, and Waitrose is especially strong on unusual formats, especially canned wine and ready-to-drink cocktails. But it’s not all about the glitzy new stuff: Waitrose is also strong in traditional categories such as fortified wine, which sometimes get left behind in the supermarket world.