Hannah Tovey hosting the Wine Buyers Awards at London Wine Fair 2023

Hannah Tovey: If the UK is a primary market, you need to be at London Wine Fair

25 May, 2023

The London Wine Fair returned to the Olympia for a three-day event that felt like a return to pre-pandemic normality, Drinks International sat down with the show’s director Hannah Tovey to reflect on the event and look ahead to next year. 

DI: This year marks the first London Wine Fair that hasn’t been directly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, how did it the show feel to you?

HT: “I'm genuinely delighted for an event that I feel was back to what it should be. We had pre-pandemic levels of visitors, a real sense of positivity and I felt that there was a real warmth to it, you could walk the floor and feel the buzz and connections that were going on, see the key buyers, the VIPs, the top press and all the people that should have been there.

“It feels like we've left the horrors of the pandemic behind us. We were able to get back to higher visitor numbers and had a better ability to predict and forecast things because that was one of the issues during the pandemic.

“But there were also hangovers from the pandemic that I think are here for good. People behave differently than they did pre-pandemic. We had later starts to the event than ever before. People tend to book things later. We all got in the habit during the pandemic of waiting till the last minute to fully confirm things because quite often, they then might not happen or they might change dates and there's definitely still a degree of that hanging over.”

DI: There was a discovery feel to the range of exhibitors this year, has championing emerging regions been an important part of the event?

HT: “Emerging regions are a nice niche that London Wine Fair is occupying and owning. You can come and find 20 Albanian producers. 26 from Jordan. Five pavilions from Greece. It’s good, fresh content. And I wholly applaud them for putting on such a good show for us. But we're still quite quietly working away in the background, making sure that the big Australia stands come back and that there's a showing from more traditional European regions.

“It's not something I wholly encouraged, that the more traditional regions have less presence because I think there is an appetite for them and I think it would be a terrible shame for them to allow for these newer, more emerging regions, to take their business, but I am delighted for the appetite that there is for the regions that are getting a strong showing at London Wine Fair.”

DI: The wine industry has been hit hard by rising inflation, the cost of living crisis, and an impending hike in duty, how can the London Wine Fair adapt to these pressures?

HT: “There just aren't the margins in our industry currently, so I'm really conscious of the value we need to offer our exhibitors. We're all being so squeezed. And that's why we're happy to share that we haven't rushed a decision about next year's venue, we’re keeping our options open because that's what we should be doing, that is my job really to try and deliver the trade, the most cost-effective event that I can, and our single biggest expense is our venue. So we have to look at it every year.

“I'm happy to be transparent that we’ve been massively squeezed too there's nobody's getting rich, out of London Wine Fair currently and I'd like for that to change. We need to make sure that we negotiate quite fiercely with all of our key suppliers and venues to try and achieve that.

DI: What can the London Wine Fair offer that other international wine shows cannot?

HT: “Our main USP is that in excess of 80% of our visitors are from the UK and they don't all go to international events - we survey them and the vast majority of them don't. So, if the UK is a primary market, you need to be at London Wine Fair.

“I think what happened in the past and why many of them left was because it just did become a major competition between all these companies to get bigger and bigger, and fancier and fancier, stands, sometimes with several floors and a lift within them. And it became such a vast investment that eventually, the straw that broke the camel's back was cost. That predates me, what I'm attempting to do is show that there's a huge value in exhibiting at London Wine Fair, I think we've made that perfectly clear with the numbers we've delivered in the quality of audience we've delivered this year.

Looking forward to next year, what’s in store?

HT: “We've got the full 12 months to prepare for the first time since before the pandemic. We've got a full team who are now experienced having done two cycles of the Wine Fair.

“I'm very keen to push the Asian content. We’ve got a 100-metre Chinese pavilion and I also want to do something for the sommelier community, particularly those working in the fine wine sphere. I'm looking to put on a tasting that should gain global recognition that I'm hoping to be able to call the Judgment of London. It will be a revisit to the Judgment of Paris tasting from 1976. We have the verbal support of the Court of Master Sommeliers to move forward, so that's something we're in the process of building.

“We're looking to keep sustainability at the heart of the fair. We’ve had talks with DNV, which is a headline sponsor, that measures carbon footprint and helps companies do something meaningful rather than just greenwashing or talking about being more sustainable.

“We’ve teamed up with the Porto Protocol and Sustainable Wine Solutions on a project of collecting all of the waste bottles in the London Wine Fair, and rather than sending them for the big crush and the recycle, we've put them into a reuse project. Each bottle is being recorded as to its type, weight, colour, and shape, and it will give us the first snapshot ever taken on this scale of how many different bottle types are used globally, and how effective a reuse scheme could be on a larger scale. That report will be coming out in a couple of months via the Porto Protocol and Sustainable Wine Solutions.

“We're looking to continue that and bring in even more schemes to show that we're not just a place to talk about sustainability, we're also a place to try and make it happen.”

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