Lea & Sandeman look to raise retail profile

London independent wine merchant Lea & Sandeman is on a mission to win over younger drinkers and expand its retail empire as it seeks to drive awareness of its brand.

Sales director Phil Weeks told OLN: “We have seen a very good 2016 and it was our best year yet outside of an en primeur promotion, so it has given us a really good base to continue to work on.

“We are very much looking forward to developing the Lea & Sandeman brand. We aim to talk about it more and engage with younger drinkers in particular, so we have ramped up our social media activity. “We have looked at ways to evolve our tasting events and interact with millennials. One aspect of this is that we aim to film some of our winemakers to show consumers how close we are to our producers and to help them meet the personalities behind the wine. These films will go on to our website.” Weeks said education is key to tapping into millennials. “We are immensely proud of the portfolio we have so we don’t feel the need to change this to attract younger drinkers. It’s more about educating them to show them what a great selection we already have.”

Adding more retail outlets is also a focus for the company this year, he said. “We would love more shops and the retail side has been very good for us lately. We have had a fantastic 2016. If we found the right store we would definitely consider it and we are actively looking, but it is difficult. There are so many people looking for similar sites, for a variety of reasons. We would be looking for the kinds of areas which link well with the Lea & Sandeman family, such as Putney or Wandsworth.”

In 2016 the company also focused more on in-store tastings, an area of the business that has seen a lot of success, according to Weeks. “Our Fulham store regularly does these on a Friday night and the Chiswick team have their own areas of interest, so they do some regular ones too.”

Lea & Sandeman has a wide range of wines, but those from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Italy form the core of its portfolio.

“We have quite an enviable portfolio of Italian wines,” Weeks said. “We have seen a lot of interest in Italy over the past five years as people diversify away from Bordeaux and realise Italy offers good value for money.

“We know there is a huge interest in Sicily at the moment and we might add some wines from this area if we find the right ones, but we don’t just want to follow trends. We want to ensure we offer value for money and we like to find wines that are of a fresh style and very drinkable, not ones which are too jammy.

“We have seen interest in crisp white wines and we have a producer from Rioja that has fresh – not oaked – vibrant wines, and these are doing well.”

Weeks added: “Everyone talks about Enotria or Liberty as specialists in Italian wine and we realised that perhaps we weren’t really shouting enough about what we are good at, so that’s also why we want to raise the profile of our brand this year.”

As part of this strategy the company hosted a trade tasting to showcase its Italian wines in London last month.

It has also added some more quirky options to its portfolio, such as a Czech Pinot Noir and Lambrusco.

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