Great Gadsby was right to walk

OLN's consulting editor Graham Holter gives his views on the big industry stories

Oddbins rocked by senior departure" is a headline worth keeping on standby, since it seems to be required so regularly. Andy Gadsby, the widely respected sales director, is the latest person to wave goodbye to Castel, and I hope his former employers are aware of just what they've lost.

He joins a list of escapees that includes a string of high-profile buyers: Emma Nichols, Lynne Coyle, Grant Ramage, James Forbes, Tony Allen and Steve Daniel. Each one of those departures has hurt Oddbins in its own way, but Gadsby's resignation may prove more painful than any of them.

Gadsby lived and breathed Oddbins. He was about the last senior person left in Wimbledon who could recall what might now be termed its glory years. For a head office suit, he embodied the straight-talking, passionate and hard-working ethos that was once a hallmark of the rugby-shirted scruffs in the branches.

The tragedy is that there is nobody to hand the baton to. Oddbins is rapidly descending into an organisation that understands less about its history and heritage than most of its customers do. For some Oddbins devotees, watching the chain's slide from maverick to mundane has been akin to betrayal.

Gadsby, like Unwins spokespeople a few years ago, was put in an unpleasant Comical Ali position by his employers by being forced to defend and implement strategies that clearly weren't working. Faced with such a situation, the only honourable thing, if you can't persuade your bosses to see sense, is to resign. Well done to Gadsby for having the guts to get out when he did.

France battles on

French wine sales have not fallen off a cliff, as many expected them to do. The latest Nielsen figures show they were up by 3.7 per cent in the year to Dec 1, a respectable enough performance even if market share slipped a little, from 17.7 per cent to 17.2 per cent. The average bottle price is up to £4.29, comfortably above the £3.99 market average and marginally ahead of Australia, the market leader.

We've been preparing for some time for the fateful moment when France, still smarting from being eclipsed by the Australians in the UK off-trade, loses its number two position to the Americans. It's been on the cards for a year or so, but somehow it hasn't happened.

California is tantalisingly close, with a 16.3 per cent market share, but it appears to have stopped for a breather.

John McLaren, UK director of the Wine Institute of California, is remarkably sanguine about looking up the league table to the French - contrary to the popular perception that he has a barrage of ­fireworks ready to explode when the data arrives to say he's leapfrogged France.

"The market isn't doing very much so it's difficult to do much within it," he shrugs. "I'm very impressed with what Chile is doing [sales up 23 per cent, since you ask], but the market is not very exciting at the moment. Our growth is not belting along as it has for the past 10 years but I think that's a hiccup. We're in the best position to move forward due to the strength of our brands. As prices go up and there are shortages elsewhere I think Chile will do well and we will too."

But McLaren takes the view that France's resilience is ultimately a good omen for everyone in the wine business. "While I'm eager to over-run them, I'm quite pleased they're ticking over nicely," he says. "It helps promote diversity. And as far as the Old World is concerned I'd rather see the market full of Soave and Valpolicella than yet more Chardonnay."

He's spot on. A healthy wine trade, surely, needs a healthy France.

We were warned

An interesting report has come into my possession. "The future of the UK drinks market and marketing of alcoholic drinks in this country will depend on whether legislation, similar to that in force in tobacco marketing, is introduced in the coming years," it warns.

"Increasing pressure from the anti-alcohol lobby, the government and the individual's increasing awareness of health make this seem likely ... the possibility of changes in duty and excise for this product group would have a dramatic effect."

The report was published by OLN in 1988. We can't say we weren't warned.

Graham Holter is a drinks writer and industry consultant. He can be contacted through his website

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