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Olympic wines were a “disappointment”

Michael Saunders, the managing director of Bibendum, has admitted that the Olympic wine campaign the company clinched last summer was a “disappointment”.

The Bibendum Fairtrade Olympic wines
The Bibendum Fairtrade Olympic wines

Speaking to the drinks business at Bibendum’s annual tasting in East London yesterday, Saunders said: “The Olympic wines were not as successful as we would have liked them to have been and we were disappointed with the results.

“We didn’t sell as much wine as we hoped to, but would I do it again? Sure.

“There was a certain amount of jealousy over the Olymics account so people in the trade are gossiping about how we’ve done. It was a great project to be involved with and I’m glad we did it,” Saunders added.

He told db that the wine that didn’t sell during the Olympics and Paralympics last summer is being re-labelled and sold through.

“It will all be snapped up by the end of March,” he said.

As for Bibendum’s overall sales performance in 2012, Saunders was candid about how difficult trading conditions were.

“Last year was tough. We grew a bit, but were not as profitable as I wanted us to be – we made a smaller profit last year than in 2011,” he said.

“It was one of the toughest years of my career and our performance wasn’t fantastic. But as a result, we’ve made sure we’re fit for purpose this year,” he added.

The fine wine arm of the business suffered last year due to the tough trading conditions.

Michael Saunders. Credit: Ben Gurr, The Times
Michael Saunders. Credit: Ben Gurr, The Times

“We have a private client business where we sell internationally to high net worth individuals, but their thirst for fine wine dwindled last year as people sought out value offerings.

“The Lafites and the Latours are being replaced with the likes of Leoville Barton and Pontet-Canet, Super Tuscans and vintage Champagne,” Saunders revealed.

Looking ahead, Saunders believes the industry will see some casualties this year.

“The industry is in crisis and there will be winners and losers this year – look at what happened last year with Waverley TBS, Stratford’s and Thierry’s.

“Less wine will be sold by less people. I’m at a huge advantage in running a private company as I don’t have the City breathing down my neck,” Saunders admitted.

Despite the gloom, Saunders revealed he’s optimistic about 2013.

“I think it will be a better year for us, but not necessarily the rest of the industry. There will be lots of problems this year; we’re all fighting fiscal issues.

Crystal Head vodka is selling well in the UK
Crystal Head vodka is selling well in the UK

It’s a disaster what’s happening with minimum pricing. The real problems will arise when it doesn’t work and the next government decides to bump it up from 45p per unit to £1, which would definitely impact upon our business.

“Is tax the right thing to do? It didn’t work with tobacco. I feel very passionately about this. It’s a health issue and will be solved through education,” he said.

In order to succeed this year, Saunders is focusing on simplifying the business.

“I’m curtailing foreign expansion and solely focusing on the UK. We’re having to do a lot of hand holding with the companies we work with today, from designing their wine lists to helping with their social media campaigns,’ he admitted.

In terms of drinking trends, Saunders believes consumers are moving towards more aromatic whites like Godello and lighter, juicier reds like Pinot Noir and Dolcetto.

Spirits are also becoming an increasingly important part of Bibendum’s business.

“Spirits are doing unbelievably well, and I say that blushing because when I started the business I said we’d sell them ‘over my dead body’.

“Dan Aykroyd’s Crystal Head vodka has been hugely well received in the UK. It’s bloody expensive but it’s selling really well and has just been taken on as the official vodka of the forthcoming Rolling Stones tour,” Saunders said.

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