Beyond Wines: UK
VINEX talks to Matthew Johnson, who together with Alex Green, set up Beyond Wines during Covid-19 to offer a new importer, and supplier partner solution for both major producers around the world and key retailers and operator customers in the on and off-trades.
Can you tell us about your backgrounds and why you set up Beyond Wines?
Alex started his career as a buyer with Sainsburys, then McColls before moving into sales at Copestick Murray and Freixenet Copestick. I started out as a chef before working in several wine retailers - Fullers, Threshers, Wine Cellar - then moving into sales and buying with a number of companies - PLB and Halewood and then finally Copestick Murray and Freixenet Copestick. Stuart Bond, our newest addition, started his career at Matthew Clark in 2000, then Gaymers Cider, Brown Forman before leaving to join Robin Copestick right at the beginning of Copestick Murray before joining Freixenet Copestick.
What gap in the market and point of difference do you think Beyond Wines can offer?
We set up Beyond Wines, as it was clear to us there was a gap in the UK wine trade for a company that truly focuses on what the consumer wants, creating brands such as Liquid Diamond, whilst also working with excellent supplier partners. Being a smaller company and not beholden to anyone gives us the flexibility to make decisions quickly. Lots of the bigger players in both on and off-trade work with dozens or even 100s of producers. Whilst it gives them choice and it offers the producers an established route to market, we have seen first-hand the damage that this causes to producer and agency alike. By focussing on a handful of excellent partners with a genuine point of difference, we are able to hone their ranges and offer, and work with them to find the right route to market in the UK. We have excellent relationships with many UK buyers through current and past work and these span the sectors of the trade, so we have the right fit for all of our supply partners’ products.
How do you work - what are the main parts of your business strategy?
We are part agent, part brand owner and also work directly for producers, acting as their UK sales office. This gives us a unique blend of breadth, equity and competitive commercial advantage. Our credibility grows all the time and more and more customers are coming to us with sourcing requests.
You have made some big strides in a short period of time - what have been the stand out successes for you?
Creating Liquid Diamond as a new lifestyle Prosecco brand must be up there and seeing it in a beautiful gift pack on ASDA’s shelves. The development of Romanian wine with Cramele Recas. This crucially has been done not just at entry level, but with indigenous and indeed orange wines, which together means around 25% of its sales are now mid-level to premium level, which is quite a turnaround. We’re incredibly proud to be working with Overhex, our partners based in Worcester, South Africa. They have amazing brands and are a top five exporter of bottled wine from that country, so for them to put their trust in us is an honour. We’re really pleased to have launched The Mooring with them in Adnams, and plenty more launches are due to follow. They are genuinely lovely people and we were thrilled when they came on board, having worked with them at Copestick Murray. They are a brand house first and foremost, with new ideas all time. The owner, Gerhard van der Wath, is passionate and excitable and his team and their brands reflect that. It’s exciting to be a part of. We’ve also had a lot of interest in a number of their brands post Cape Wine - so watch this space.
What potential and opportunity do you think there is for South African wine?
Good value for money wine that can only flourish with the extreme pressures being felt in other countries. South Africa has struggled for a place on the world stage over the last decade, where it has been about country and grape type pairs. Italian Pinot Grigio, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Argentinian Malbec. Yes there is Pinotage and Chenin Blanc (which are incredible) but they have either been bin end cheap or in the £15+ category, as has all of South Africa. The opportunity is to establish the mid-tier, what would be £7-10 on a supermarket shelf, with good brands and a sense of place rooted in the iconic and much loved parts of South Africa.
What have been the biggest challenges to date for you as a business?
Where do we start!? It seems that each month another challenge is thrown at the wine trade, but by far the biggest problem is managing costs. Aside from the macro environment, starting a new business from scratch has been eye opening and tough at times. The highs are incredible and the lows match that for how difficult those moments can be. We’ve made plenty of mistakes, spent money on projects that seemed important, but with hindsight weren’t. What we could have used that precious cash for today!
How do you go about looking for which wine partners and producers to work with?
Each one of them has to be unique. That means non competing with one another, and also offering something that no other producer partner can claim that they are able to do. We think the sweet spot for a business our size is five to seven strategic partners, with a handful of tactical ways of sourcing wine should our customers request it.
Where in the world are you seeing the best value for wine / looking to source wine from and why?
Look anywhere not being traded in USD and EUR. We’ve never been in a weirder place with sourcing, and we’ll need to adapt. Speaking with contacts around the world, guys in Argentina and South Africa are used to constant economic turmoil so we have leant on them for advice as to how to deal with it. The current situation with Australia and China will undoubtedly create opportunities for value Australian bulk; and we have started working with a winery to help them move through some of their excess inventory. It’s incredible where pricing has fallen to in such a short space of time. The economic and political world will continue to shape how good value wines are put on UK shelves.
You are looking to create your own brands but also do bespoke projects too?
We are always looking at our own brands. This was a key part of our development at Copestick Murray. Being a brand owner is what gives Beyond Wines its equity beyond being an effective and competent agent. We have launched Liquid Diamond and will continue to search for new gaps in the market. We don’t tend to look at other wines and copy them; we are hyper focussed on the end consumer so our NPD is more about answering something that they are asking for that fits in with their everyday lives.
Where do you see the big opportunities over the next 12 to 18 months?
Finalising our producer portfolio (in conversations currently), building relationships and gaining credibility with customers will keep us busy. The London Wine Fair was a huge success for us in 2022 and we can’t wait to be back next year.
What are the big next steps and goals for Beyond `Wines?
We have been trading for just over two years and have lost money over that time, with start-up costs (and the odd costly mistake) and one off fees being the main reason. In the last six months we have become profitable so we want to continue building that positive position, pay off debts and grow the company in size and reach. Our goal is bold yet simple: to be the best partner for our suppliers and customers.
What is the best way for anyone to approach you who might want to work with you?
Reach out to anyone of the three directors (Alex Green, Matt Johnson and Stuart Bond) by email, phone or LinkedIn. We are always ready to listen to new ideas and work with innovative, creative minds. We pride ourselves on saying ‘yes’ and making it work for all parties, so let’s see if we can work together.
You can find out more about Beyond Wines and receive an introduction by VINEX here