Chris O’Brien, the General Manager of Western Australian cooperative, Liquor Barons, has made a bold statement, telling National Liquor News that “premium wine groups are dead”.

Ten years ago, Liquor Barons itself was a premium wine group, but O’Brien says that the consumer has moved on and is now looking for “local, more local and very local”.

He says: “It’s a big call but wine is becoming less important.”

“I understand that this will be quite controversial, but I genuinely believe that if you’re planning to join a premium wine group in 2020, you’re 10 years too late.

“The market has moved on. And you need to be looking more closely at your local community. You need to be looking at your ability to engage with your local community, through product mix, through flexibility, and through next generation customer relationship management technology.”

For Liquor Barons, the focus has moved away from premium wine and shifted towards a more premium, locally sourced craft offering, with a major focus on craft beer. And the strategy seems to be paying off, with the banner experiencing strong growth, it currently sits at a store count of 82, and O’Brien says that number will continue to increase.

Speaking of Liquor Barons’ new direction, O’Brien said: “About five years ago we witnessed a growing trend in the UK of a return of the high street style specialist type store. People were rejecting the big retailers in favour of a more personalised intimate retail experience.

“We did premiumisation 10 years ago, but we’ve moved beyond premiumisation. It’s now about bespoke, curated and local.

“The consumer has moved on. They want local, more local and very local. They also want beer, different beer but everyday beer as well. Spirits are making a comeback, but the big brands are suffering as the market turns to locally made products which utilise local produce and innovative ingredients.

“I don’t think it’s unique to liquor. We’re seeing this return to the high street in other markets in the UK, in the US and we’re certainly seeing it in Australia now and have been for some time. Consumers are seeking out experiences and that is the environment that we as liquor store retailers need to create, and is certainly the environment that Liquor Barons is assisting its members in creating.

“Taking on this sentiment we are changing things up within the West Australian liquor industry, creating a more bespoke, friendly less one-dimensional style service for our customers.

“We’re still growing and growing with the right stores, we’re attracting a really significant number of big, big players in Western Australia. The strategy where we’re really focused on growing our presence within Western Australia and not around Australia has really worked and delivering some impressive results.

“Liquor Barons is a cooperative and exists only for its members. So, growth for growth’s sake is not something that we chase. However, there is now a lot of interest in our cooperative model. And the pipeline is strong. So, we would expect to continually announce new stores for the foreseeable future.”

Deborah Jackson

Deb joined Intermedia in 2015 as Editor of National Liquor News and Deputy Editor of The Shout. Since then, she has also worked as the Editor of Beer & Brewer and the New Zealand title, World of Wine....

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