Findlater & Co

Following its acquisition by Valeo, Irish business Findlater Wine & Spirits has major plans to revitalise its brand. Chief Commercial Officer and MD Oliver Sutherland tells us his strategy.

Given it is nearly 200 years since Alexander Findlater established his first whiskey store in Dublin, it is little surprise that Oliver Sutherland admits that the name “has a lot of resonance” in Ireland. However if he has his way, the brand is set to have even more resonance in coming years.

Back in 2014 the business was part of tea and coffee maker Robert Roberts which was then acquired, along with health food company Kelkin, by Valeo Foods from DCC. Since then Sutherland, who was formerly Chief Commercial Officer at Valeo and is also a previous MD of Nestlé Ireland, has been busy integrating the businesses that Valeo acquired from DCC into the wider group and defining a portfolio strategy.

The result has been a clear focus to revitalise the Findlater brand, a €100m business manufacturing and distributing premium coffee, wines and spirits, along with bakery and culinary ingredients to the hotel, restaurant and café trade.

Footprint

Says Sutherland: “By bringing together these already successful businesses we’re really widening our footprint, while we are of course also getting the benefits of scale. As a business Valeo was often selling coffee or wine to the same buyer so there was a real consolidation opportunity in terms of the channels we bought into.”

However he stresses that it is not just about adding scale but value too. “Valeo’s PE owner CapVest is a long-term player in this market and Findlater is all about building a platform that really nails this market and exploits the potential for growth. Ultimately we want to be part of every eating occasion. That means constantly looking at what we sell and how we sell it. That means reaching consumers via whatever channel they are using. That means understanding exactly what consumers are looking for.”

Changing tastes

As our working lives have transformed these questions have become much harder to answer.

Sutherland sees it every day as he deals with rapidly changing tastes driven by an increasingly health-conscious consumer. Take coffee, where Findlater has now developed its own commercial artisan brand and where health trends are upending the market. “One trend we see is the increasing popularity of plant-based dairy free milks such as soya milk or coconut milk which are perceived as much healthier. In response we have been working successfully with the likes of Alpro, the largest plant based milk brand.”

Consumers are also prepared to try new markets. As he adds: “With our own brand we are sourcing the beans from Ethiopia which gives a very different flavour profile and is less bitter than more traditional blends such as from Colombia.”

With coffee it is also about what people are eating with their drink that’s important too, he adds. Findlater recently developed a very well-received cookie range, while its gluten-free snack bars are also proving popular.

Wines

Sutherland is seeing similar health-conscious trends with wines, epitomised by the increasing popularity of organic wines, and by a rising tendency by consumers to try new flavours from countries such as Wales, Greece and China.

He says Irish consumers seem particularly alive to these trends. “Part of the reason is that cities like Dublin where we are based have a very young population. But also Ireland is coming from a bad place in the past in terms of poor obesity and alcohol levels. There is a real feeling that younger consumers are very aware of this.”

Another factor could be the increasing tendency of millennials to abstain from drink, with latest figures suggesting as many as one in five millennials do not drink alcohol. “Our non-alcoholic wines are doing very well at the moment,” he adds.

Talking of wine, another trend is the huge growth in premium sales. “It might sound a cliché but people still want to treat themselves too. It comes back to these other wider food retailing trends we are seeing. When it comes to the weekly shop people are after the best value possible. But then they will make sure they treat themselves every now and again too.”

Brexit

Meanwhile, as well as dealing with these long-term shifts in the market, Sutherland is also having to deal with more immediate concerns around Brexit and the falling pound. In particular he says competitors supplying to the Irish market from the UK have seen their prices fall by up to 20% in Ireland. “That creates challenges when you have to be competitive on the shelf. Meanwhile we have to assume that the 2019 Brexit deadline is the deadline that we are working towards. We have to assume that WTO tariffs will come in at that point and have to plan for what that might look like.”

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