Robin Copestick on why a multi-channel strategy is a wine company's future

If you want to get a clear picture on where the wine industry is heading then look no further than Robin Copestick of Copestick Murray, the wine brand, sourcing and distribution business, that has a sixth sense for sniffing out the best opportunities not just here in the UK but around the world with brands such as I Heart that are now in over 20 countries. 

This is an extended version of the interview that appeared in this week's Grapevine Review that I produce for the London Wine Fair


As an established supplier to major supermarkets how have the recent range cutbacks affected you?

Our customer base is now far more diverse and we have a lot more options to do business. We now have 250 customers, whereas five years ago that was closer to 50.


Where are you now selling most of your wine?

We sell most of our volume via the multiple off-trade, but our biggest area of growth is in the convenience and impulse sector. We’re also working with big on-trade groups like Greene King and Matthew Clark and regional wholesalers. 


What do you think of the range cutbacks in chains like Tesco?

Five years ago if we had something new we would have gone to the biggest player, which was Tesco. Not anymore. It Is not looking for new branded products. It is not a criticism. It is a reality.

But what Tesco is doing is right for their business and their customers.  It is still a good customer of ours, but not for innovation. 


Do you see this as being a long term trend?

The changes are right for their business models at the moment. Trim back the range, get the quality right, have a consistent price. Then they can build from there. But there is no doubt ranges had got too big, too complicated with far too much duplication. The only way you could stand out was to promote. The likes of Aldi and Lidl have shown you don’t need to have 10 Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand.


Why is the impulse sector now so important to you?

It is like dealing with Tesco 10 years ago. Retailers are very receptive to new ideas, they know who their customer base is, they know they are growing and they have to keep their offer fresh and interesting to attract customer.

It is predicted to be one of the big growth areas in the UK and we are certainly seeing that. We can sell significant volumes through the convenience channel and there is more flexibility on price and driving premium products. Shoppers in convenience expect to pay more for their wine.

Take Bargain Booze. It has a very brave and innovative buying team who are prepared to take a risk. But then it is easier for them to give something a go and if it does not work out then they have channels to exit stock.

You work with both Aldi and Lidl. How different is it working with them?
We have been working with Aldi for three years and Lidl more recently. They are very easy to work with and I think recognise we are also a reliable, cost effective business and what they need from a wine supplier.

What is the trick to their success?

They have an advantage in that they can buy large quantities of wine for a limited range. So they can calculate very clearly how much they will need to buy and provide a guaranteed price. It is a very simple and effective buying model. how

What are you doing in the on-trade?
The national on-trade is a very exciting arena to be in. In the same way the convenience sector is wanting to see new ideas and sell better wine, so is are the national on-trade players and the big brewers. That is where we want to be doing business.

How about the growth in casual dining chains?

I think they are making wine far more approachable and personable. Twenty years ago we would go to France and get excited about being able to go in to a shop and fill up our own bottle with wine. We are starting to see more of that approach coming in to the UK. A more hands on, artisan approach. Like wine on tap. It shows wine does not have to come in fancy, expensive packaging to be popular.

It is now so rare to get a bad quality or faulty wine, so the point of difference has to be the story, the style of the wine, the packaging and how it is being served and presented.

Do you need to have your own brands to be competitive as a wine supplier?
We need to do both. We need to be a good logistical company that can meet the demands of supermarkets, but at the same time come up with new exciting products that are relevant to them.

Your I Heart brand has been very successful and is now in over 20 countries. What is the secret to creating a successful wine brand?

We think consumer upwards, look at what they want and then design a brand for that consumer. Some of our competitors are not thinking about the consumer. It is more about selling a product they have created and then asking a retailer if they want to sell it.