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Interviews

In Talks With CEO of Halewood Wine & Spirits

26/09/2020

Meet Stewart Hainsworth, CEO of Halewood Wine & Spirits. Halewood is also the company behind Whitley Neill Gin, U.K.'s # 1 premium selling gin.

Today, London Spirits Competition is in conversation with Stewart Hainsworth, CEO of Halewood Wine & Spirits. Here, Hainsworth talks about his journey with Halewood, and the best way to infiltrate the UK market with your drinks.  

  1. Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into working with Halewood?

I am a chartered accountant with over 25 years of tobacco and alcohol experience in Global Manufacturing and Distribution. I spent 14 years working in Russia and another 4 years Internationally. I am a former FTSE 100 director of Gallaher Group and have been involved in many startups and turnarounds with private equity.

I joined Halewood as CEO in 2015, the family business was in serious trouble with core brands in decline, turnover dropping and rising costs resulting in a record loss of £8m in 2015. Our strategy was to rebuild the management team, focus on spirits, launch artisanal brands, acquire new businesses and drive International expansion. We have successfully turnaround the business, growing Revenue to c£400m (almost 100%) and delivering Ebitda to record levels (c£30m+).

We have opened businesses in the USA, Russia, Australia and improved our position in South Africa and China. We export to over 90 countries worldwide. We sold off a winery in Romania and closed down our water business converting it to a craft brewery.

The vast amount of our profitability is from artisanal spirits and we achieved the UK’s Number one premium gin status with Whitley Neill gin, selling over 550k 9 litre cases in the last twelve months from a standing start of 4k in 2015.

  1. Give us a little bit of a history about Halewood

We focus on artisanal brands as a point of difference, such as Dead Man’s Fingers Spiced Rum from main stream brands. We have built or acquired 12 distilleries and 2 breweries in the last four years. Each business proposition has a unique story to tell, whether made with local raw ingredients or a new innovation into a category, such as flavoured / modern gins. We look to see the gaps in the market, we offer a unique experience for the consumer through our distillery bar venues. Design through colour is a huge focus for our business we want the brand to pop off the shelf, we are not about “me too” traditional brands.

  1. What does a regular day look like for you?

  • Start at 7am

  • Try to do 30 mins on the stepper.

  • Off to work with a pile of emails.

  • Meetings start around 9.30 after calls resulting from emails which are an overused form of communication.

  • If in London, a catch with the design team, if Liverpool it will be operations.

  • The day is full of calls to various markets heads or problem solving.

  • Dinner at 7.30 often with trade visits two or three times a week.

  • Back home late.

  • Half my time is spent on business trips, so not day is really the same.

  1. So what are consumers looking for?

Consumers want choice, the digital world offers instant information. A brand is a statement of their individuality and eagerness for discovery and knowledge. Consumers like to collect experiences and tell their friends. 

Artisanal spirits offer adventure and real points of difference from the past “one size fits all“ mainstream brands. Consumers drink less but are willing to pay more for quality, artisanal brands offer a personality. Controlling quality is essential, that is why we are vertical integrated. We source, we distill or ferment, we bottle and often distribute directly to retail in core markets. 

We have a Welsh Distillery - Aber Falls in Snowdonia that uses local raw materials and has a great visitor centre. We are building other whisky distilleries in Edinburgh and Blackpool due to finish before Xmas that will offer unique products. We have three other distillery bars concepts in London, Bristol and Liverpool for rum and gin labs. We want to engage, educate, provide a two way feedback mechanism and most of all have fun related activities to build brand discovery.

  1. And what are some of the trends that we might see in 2020?

More rum, no & lo and different gin flavours for the UK. In Europe it will be similar, the US is much harder to predict. Tequila & Bourbon has a huge influence, which is less relevant. In general more flavoured spirits as categories fragment with artisanal and local production increasing.

  1. Tell us a little bit about how you recruit talent for Halewood. What’s your strategy to finding the best staff to work with you?

Alot of staff recruited through connections, LinkedIn and Headhunters for specific roles. Staff are well paid, empowered to make decisions at managerial level. Success and clear leadership is a great way to keep staff.

  1. What are some of the marketing tactics you use to bring consumer awareness for your brands?

Infiltration via digital is important.

  1. And according to you, what’s the best way to infiltrate the UK market?

Route to the market is key and supermarkets although receptive to new product ideas have limited suppliers. Finding a decent distributor is key but there are very few in the UK and most have full portfolios. Online is the best way to start, build up sales and then you will find a better distributor.

  1. And lastly Stewart, what are you going to be drinking this Christmas?

I will drink WNG black bottle with Lamb& Watt but I have a more festive Pink Xmas variant:

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