Barwell & Jones signals comeback

UK wine agency Barwell & Jones has unveiled a new-look portfolio which has doubled in size as the company climbs back from its collapse five years ago.

Barwell & Jones MD Stephen Gerrard

Barwell & Jones MD Stephen Gerrard

Having rescued Hayman Barwell & Jones from the administrators, John Coe brought the company under his Coe Group umbrella, shed its wholesale arm and changed the name to Barwell & Jones. Now focused entirely as a wine agency business, Barwell & Jones has been headed for the last two years by managing director Stephen Gerrard.

“There’s been huge investment in our structure and wineries,” Gerrard told the drinks business as he praised the “visionary” outlook of John Coe in saving the company.

As a result of this investment, Barwell & Jones has employed business managers in Scotland, the north and south of England, with another new recruit due to take responsibility for the central region next month. Meanwhile the marketing team, headed by Fiona Juby, has been bolstered by the addition of two new brand managers.

With the move away from wholesale, Barwell & Jones initially slashed its portfolio from 160 producers to a core of just 10 exclusive agencies, including Castillo Perelada in Penedès and Eikendal in Stellenbosch.

This week the company confirmed the addition of a further 10 in the form of Port house Burmester, Bodegas Fontana from Castilla la Mancha, Château Haut Brion’s little sister Clarendelle, Champagne Henri Giraud, Pueblo del Sol from Uruguay, Elephant Hill from Hawke’s Bay, Penny’s Hill from McLaren Vale, Thomas Goss from Adelaide Hills and a pair of Brazilian producers in the form of Pizzato and Perini.

While noting that the portfolio now offers a “good mix” of Old World and New World, Juby noted: “We have good representation in South America, which reflects the interest in those markets.”

Despite missing the marketing opportunity for Brazilian wine offered by the FIFA World Cup this summer, Juby expressed confidence that the country has a long-term future in the UK.

“I think that consumers want to explore different countries, wines and varieties,” she observed. “They will have got a bit of a flavour of Brazil from the World Cup and then there’s the Olympics, but consumer are interested in trying different things.”

This assessment ties in with the extra support that the new look Barwell & Jones makes a point of offering its producers, in particular through tasting events with retail customers. “It’s not just a supplier arrangement,” insisted Juby. “We try to work in partnership with our wineries.”

Although acknowledging the “huge cost” of organising these winemaker events around the UK, Gerrard insisted that they did result in more sales. Meanwhile Juby highlighted the particular importance of this event-led approach for the higher value wines that form an increasingly important part of the agency’s portfolio.

“The key at that price point is for consumers to taste the wine and it’s even better if the winemaker is there too who can bring it to life for them,” she observed. “We try not to just roll the wine into the independent; we try to actually help pull it through.”

She cited the company’s new Brazilian signings as a prime example of a beneficiary of this approach. “People have this perception that South America is going to be cheap and cheerful, but Brazil isn’t cheap,” remarked Juby. “That’s what we have to get across to people in tastings.”

She also stressed the importance of generating a halo effect from these events, saying: “It’s about how you use social media, regional or national press, sommeliers – how do you influence the influencers?”

Although around 70% of the company’s business is currently derived from larger retailers, Gerrard reported strong growth from its wholesale and independent retail customer base. He also noted the potential offered by the online sector, adding: “It’s very interesting for us but we’re being very careful.”

Barwell & Jones marketing director Fiona Juby

Barwell & Jones marketing director Fiona Juby

For Juby, online represents “the perfect vehicle for getting to consumers; we just need to make sure we do it in the right way.” She also remarked: “The average retail price is much higher online than in-store,” noting: “People use it to research and will order those wines fairly quickly if you give them the right information in their language, but you’ve got to be quick and punchy.”

Turning to the UK market in general, Gerrard suggested: “There’s a lot of uncertainty still”, acknowledging wine’s position as “a luxury item in the basket.”

He linked this to Barwell & Jones’ current strategy, maintaining: “People are spending money but they want a deal, they want value. They are prepared to pay more for quality and that’s where we fit really by bringing that awareness. It’s not about offering a shelf discount, it’s about bringing value.”

Having seen turnover grow by 30% last year, Gerrard outlined that the next year will see Barwell & Jones “carefully looking at what we need to do to service that growth.”

Its larger size means that the company can now justify taking a stand at events such as SITT and the Beautiful South, which Gerrard hopes in turn will help to boost its profile.

Above all, he concluded: “We’re built on our people and our wineries – we’re a lot more stable now.”

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