A New Year message: Letter from London

A New Year message: Letter from London

Monday 4th January 2021
by Chadwick Delaney

A New Year message: Letter from London

Few could have presumed that within weeks of a new decade beginning we would become so absorbed in navigating such sinuously unfolding tragedy. Long months indeed and significant setbacks became the test of each of us as coronavirus overtook our wishes for 2020. Like many businesses Justerini & Brooks was forced to adapt, and re-adapt, at some pace. It is a testament to the teams and individuals within Justerini & Brooks, as well as to the companies which partner with us, that such profound changes were absorbed into our business practices so quickly. It would be far from accurate to paint a summary of 2020 which was somehow positive, but the reality is there was much in those endeavours which provides both pride and hope.

The hospitality sector has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 situation. Justerini & Brooks has a long history supplying many of the top restaurants, clubs and hotels right across the country – skilled businesses which consistently show us all some of the very best in enterprise. It has been a truly awful year for these companies and their employees and a key priority has been to be there for them as they deal with the impact and implications of rotating Tier changes. None of our staff working in this area were furloughed and our aim was to keep a focus, commitment and dialogue going with all of our On-Trade customers as they went through unprecedented upheaval. In fact our commitment to this sector as it comes out of this truly dreadful situation is we actively aim to be an even stronger partner.

A very different picture was being painted within our Private Client teams. It feels ill-tuned to note that 2020 saw the biggest Burgundy campaign of our 272 year history – with sales last January/February almost touching £6m. Perhaps more extraordinary was a Bordeaux primeur campaign - released during a full lockdown - which far exceeded that sales figure. Over the course of 2020 the average price of a bottle of wine sold to our private customers declined marginally to £80 a bottle ex tax. On the other hand, our customer storage facility – Cellarers – was put to unprecedented use throughout the year. With customers all around the world being more at home, the Cellarers operation was stretched to double its normal delivery capacity right through the year, and contrary to actual customer purchases in 2020, the average bottle value requested to be delivered out of people’s Reserves increased as customers seemed to decide now was the time to drink some of their more special bottles. The average price per bottle materially rising to £200 a bottle ex tax.

It is an obvious misnomer that established businesses are somehow stuck in the past. But they do have the benefit of directly learning from it. The commercial truth is no business survives without being closely connected to the needs of its customers and alive to an always-changing environment. Businesses which have grown over years and decades - even centuries – each will have continuously seized change. It was exactly one hundred years ago, at the beginning of the last Twenties, that Justerini & Brooks, as well as its staff and its customers, emerged from the grim horror of those previous years, including the Spanish influenza. Through effort those same people made the following years a period of substantive growth and innovation. Within Justerini & Brooks it included the launching of the concept of Cellarers which brought us access, for the first time, to a whole group of customers who didn’t have the means to store cellars at home. It included the creation of our house whisky J&B Rare which helped connect us more closely with the growth happening within the United States, which itself helped fund our acquisitions of several West End wine merchants – acquisitions which materially increased our access to mature wines as well as bringing more new customers. Those years changed this company’s trajectory.

There are many reasons for hope. Much of what happened in 2020 was unwelcome. But the choices we now each make are for us. Its whether we let such disruption be an end to our plans, or choose to ensure it becomes a beginning.

 

Chadwick Delaney

Managing Director