Bibendum is one of the UK’s most successful drinks businesses and Senior Wine Buyer for Bibendum Jamie Avenell is responsible for the overall portfolio of wines from around the world to its diverse multi-channel customer base. Bibendum’s English range has seen a strong double-digit growth for a number of years, for both still and sparkling, and is looking good for continued growth into the future.

The Bibendum model

Bibendum’s model is to offer our exclusive agency producers a complete solution for the UK market through Bibendum On-trade, Walker & Wodehouse for Independent retail, and Bibendum Off-trade. Through our ownership by C&C we also now work with the Tennents business in Scotland and C&C’s distribution businesses in ROI & NI. So, we have a diverse-multi channel customer base.

I’ve been with Bibendum for just over 10 years now and I’m currently on the second year of the MW programme – which is great fun but a lot of work and a challenge to fit in around work, family and anything else there is time left for.

English wines

We currently work with a total of 10 English producers on an exclusive basis for the UK market within Bibendum, with a good mix of sparkling and still wine producers. We have expanded the number of producers we work with a number of times over the last few years as demand has grown and we have really focussed on growing and developing the category. At the moment we probably have the right number of producers, but I would love us to be in a position where demand meant we needed to expand further in the future.

Pre Covid-19, we had seen consistent strong growth, but clearly during the pandemic whilst Independent retail sales have done incredibly well the on-trade has suffered, but with the trade open again and demand strong I would expect English wine to continue its growth in our business. 

Whilst sparkling gets all the plaudits and column inches, we have seen growth in demand for English still wine pretty much in line with the growth of sparkling over the years, which is why we have added a number of still wine producers to our portfolio over the last years.

Although there has been great momentum in the category, the enthusiasm for buying local has helped – and the English category is probably the only one that will benefit from Brexit, in the short term anyway until we have trade deals. 

Best sellers? 

Ridgeview is our top selling producer currently, and within this the Ridgeview Bloomsbury NV. They are a fantastic producer, with an established name, great quality, and with whom we work closely to develop and support sales with our customers.

A market for Charmat?

There is absolutely an interest and market for Charmat – and it is an area that we have seen strong growth in. I was a little reticent to start working with this category initially when we first teamed up with Fitz, given the perceived danger to the category some see with Charmat, but I felt the commercial opportunity was strong, and importantly it targets a totally different customer to traditional method English Sparkling Wine – and so it has proved. It allows customers who might not sell much traditional method sparkling wine to sell a fun English wine, with an approachable style by the glass at a price point that works for their business and their customers. Those that have the customer base for it will then also list traditional method English Sparkling Wine. It’s expanding the footprint of English wine overall and bringing it to a wider customer base which can only be a good thing. We are very careful to ensure it’s clearly positioned as a different category of English wine, not one in the same.

Getting listed

For producers wanting to get listed and gain distribution with Bibendum, quality is key – as is building a name and customer demand for your wines and getting out there supporting sales. Whilst there has been fantastic growth in the market as supply increases this will only become more important.

How can producers help sales?

In normal times we run a regular programme of tastings and events both for customers and in-house trainings, have an incredibly strong social media program, and a brilliant knowledgeable sales team that have a passion for English wine and the producers we work with.

The future?

As volume increases and the industry grows the attention to detail has increased as producers grow and evolve experimentation in the winery, and push the boundaries of what can be done with English wine products – such as Ridgeview Oak Reserve, and Balfour’s limited release wines. These kinds of wine really underpin the qualitative message of English wine which will continue to underpin UK growth, and help establish the category further for export market growth – which will be really important to the category over the next 10 years.

Importance of sustainability

Sustainable practices are becoming a pre-requisite for sales with many customers and so it’s absolutely vital that producers give thought to their sustainability practices and how they can contribute to a better future through the way that they work. We have always worked with producers that give great importance to this, but it’s definitely become even more important over the last few years.

English Wine Week

This year, because of current Covid-19 restrictions we were unable to run some of the activity we would normally run during English Wine week, but were able to support producers with our social media activities. Let’s hope next year we can see a return to larger scale events to fully support the event.

Most recent imbibes?

Picking a favourite would be difficult, but the last English wine I sat down to drink was a bottle of Balfour’s Suitcase Pinot Noir. The quality of the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier red wines coming out of Balfour is phenomenal and shows that reds could possibly become a bigger player within English wine in the future where climate allows.

What do you like to do when not buying wine? 

Studying for the MW programme takes a lot of time. Spending time with my wife, and our six year old daughter – who is a bundle of energy, travelling (how I can’t wait to do that again…), eating out, and then running to moderate the former. I’m taking part in the Scotland coast to coast race in September – a race including running, cycling, and kayaking from one coast of Scotland to the other over one day!