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10 April 2024

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Interviews

What are Online Spirits Buyers really looking for?

Master of Malt lists 15,000 brands. We spoke to Spirits Buyer Guy Hodcroft to find out how he keeps on top of his remarkable workload.

“We try to stock most things. Whether you’re Diageo or making gin in your garden shed, we’ll give everybody the same opportunity.”

Most buyers get used to saying no, or a variant thereof; for Guy Hodcroft, though, things are different. As the man charged with deciding what goes on Master of Malt’s enormous website, his stock response is always the same - as long as the product doesn’t have any obvious faults, they’re happy to give it a go.

It means Hodcroft spends plenty of time trying samples and much less fending off disappointed salespeople. His life in drinks began as a sommelier in Spain and the UK, before he joined Selfridges, gradually making his way up to assistant buyer for wines and spirits. Then came Master of Malt, and all those samples - plus, as he puts it, “daily trips to the recycling bin with armfuls of cardboard and bottles”.

We caught up with him to find out more about life as Master Of Malt’s buyer.

So how does the buying process at Master of Malt work?

“The philosophy of the business is that we try to stock most things. If it exists, we’ll probably give it a go. We’re always happy to take on a new product, normally in quite small quantities unless we think it’s going to be an absolute banker and fly off the shelves immediately. So if it’s a new gin - of which there are thousands - we would start with a case or two and see how things go. But we will try and give most things a go, whether you’re Diageo or making gin in your garden shed.”

How big a factor is a quality in your buying decisions?

“We do stock things that aren’t necessarily to my taste - but if we only stocked things to my taste we’d be out of business fairly quickly! I taste nearly everything we stock - not quite everything, but the vast majority. If something is fundamentally flawed or actively unpleasant, it doesn’t get in but if it’s adequate, we give it a go. Those are often the brands where you buy a case, it hangs around for a while, and you think - ‘probably not worth us buying this again.' It’s clearly not working, let’s move onto the next thing. Quality is a factor [in my decision making] but it’s not the most important factor.”

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Mom Trend Bulletin 

What are your most popular categories?

“It’s whisky - the vast majority of that being single-malt whisky - and gin. Then we do a fair amount of rum, and liqueurs and things, but whisky and gin are our two stand-out categories.”

Has Covid-19 had a big impact on how you do your job?

“The only thing that's really changed is that, for the last 18 months or so, I’ve been in far fewer physical meetings because that was not really possible. But I’ve worked from home for five years, so that’s not really changed. The main difference is that, if I was going to speak to a supplier or try a new product, I would usually meet with them somewhere convenient for a tasting. For the past year or so they’ve been sending me samples rather than me going to meet them. Now I get a lot more through the past - it’s 11.30 am now and I’ve already had eight samples.”

What’s popular with your customers at the moment?

“Tequila seems to be having a very good year, albeit that’s coupled with a shortage of Agave supply. We’re not the optimum route for these things, but ready-to-drink cans and hard seltzers are doing very well indeed. A lot of these are designed to be sold in train stations or fridges in shops for drinking immediately, rather than ordered online to arrive four days later, which is how we operate.

“Pre-bottled cocktails, whether from brands or on-trade premises that were looking for revenue during the lockdown, are selling very well - and what’s interesting is that they’re continuing to sell well now. I think there are still some people with a degree of nervousness who want to have a nice drink at home. They are selling very well.”

Is there anything you’re excited about at the moment?

“I’m really interested in what’s coming out of Mexico at the moment. There’s some very good tequilas, some very good mezcals - I’m a bit of an agave geek. There’s some really lovely stuff that was previously only available in Mexico making its way to the UK. And also, some of the newer Scotch distilleries, people who are bringing their first things to market - there are some really lovely liquids, sometimes made very traditionally, but they’re making delicious new-style whisky. That’s very exciting to taste.”

So how does a producer get its product in front of you?

“I need a sample and a commercial proposition - what the product is, what you want to sell it to me for, what you want the RRP to be. You should convince me that it’s filling a hole in the market, or it’s doing something sufficiently different to make it interesting. There are some products that are not filling a hole - another flavoured gym or spiced rum - and that’s fine, but it’s better if you can demonstrate that it’s interesting or different.” 

International and Domestic Submission deadline is February 22. If you are looking to grow your brand in 2024, looking for product feedback, or looking to get in front of real trade buyers. It's time to enter your brands in the London Competitions. Here's how to enter, costs and benefits.

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