Berkmann Wine Cellars chair discusses vision for the agency

12 October, 2021

Alison Levett, the former chief executive of Enotria, was recently appointed to the role of non-executive chair at leading wine supplier Berkmann Wine Cellars. She discusses her vision for the company and the key traits and values required for a wine agency to thrive in the years ahead.

What inspired you to join Berkmann Wine Cellars? How does it feel to be returning to the wine industry?

I have long admired Berkmann Wine Cellars as a leading player in the wine industry and am excited to be part of the next stage of their journey. Berkmann occupies a great position between large-scale and niche players, with a quite extraordinary portfolio, and these factors serve as a great platform from which to grow. I am attracted to Berkmann’s family values and their focus on premium products and customer service.

Obviously the wine industry has been through some tough times during the pandemic, and has had to adapt to changing customer and consumer behaviours. I am impressed at how Berkmann launched their very successful Help4Hospitality initiative, and started new relationships with the likes of Tempos Vega Sicilia and Ridge Vineyards. It’s is a great time to take stock, refresh our mission, vision and values.

What is the vision for the next five years at Berkmann Wine Cellars?

Berkmann Wine Cellars is founded on strong values, incredible wine expertise, exceptional service and deep relationships with both our customers and producers. Our vision will be around taking these to the next level. We want to grow but not chase growth for the sake of it or at the expense of quality in how we operate.

We intend to take a more marketing-led approach across the business, to provide insights for customers particularly in the hospitality sector which is our heartland. We will also be looking to invest in IT to drive operational efficiencies and to up our digital capabilities.

More than ever people want to work for companies that have a strong ethos and we will be taking a good look at how we can develop our values, retaining what makes us special and adding what matters to the next generation.

How did the company adapt to the brutal conditions for the hospitality sector during the pandemic and what sort of shape is it in now?

During the pandemic, Berkmann pivoted for the first time in the company’s 56-year history to a B2C model through the pop-up online wine shop Help4Hospitality. H4H was very much a collaborative project between Berkmann and its on-trade customers who promoted the online shop to their customer base. Through this cooperation, the shop helped to raise over £85,000 for the industry, something we are incredibly proud of.

Today, Berkmann is back to its traditional B2B model, and on-trade sales figures are looking very promising post-pandemic. The market is showing that consumer confidence in eating and drinking out has returned, whilst wine sales in the off-trade have shown a premiumisation trend.

How do you see broad wine consumption trends evolving over the next five years? Will the on-trade make a full recovery? Will ecommerce continue to grow? Will consumers look for more low-alcohol wines? How will Berkmann approach the changing landscape?

Overall, we predict that consumers will continue to experiment with different styles and regions. We expect premiumisation to continue, as consumers’ appreciation for higher quality wines with interesting stories takes an even stronger hold.  We also foresee increasing interest in lighter, purer styles of wines.

We believe that full recovery for on-trade outlets will be achieved by those that focus on superb consumer experience in product service and quality. Similarly, we predict that the importance of quality will also be increasingly important in the off-trade, with consumers drinking less alcohol, so investing in better quality drinks. We see this a great opportunity for premium retail going forward.

What are the key traits and values required for a wine agency to thrive in the years ahead?

The core traits of Berkmann are of course our wine expertise, strong relationships and impeccable service, and the significance of these should not be underestimated. That being said, I think that authenticity is a value that is increasingly important; staying true to our roots and understanding our clients’ needs are qualities that will be valued even more in the years ahead.

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