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Confessions of a spirits retail buyer: Waitrose

Herchelle Perez Terrado, spirits buyer for UK supermarket Waitrose, discusses her penchant for gin and Tequila, what products the British public are buying and her busy inbox

Herchelle Perez Terrado sees a big future for bitter flavours and Tequila in Waitrose stores

When I look for a new product, it definitely needs to have a strong vision; I need to understand what the product is about and where it’s going. It needs to have authenticity and embody the same values it communicates, from the way it’s made to where it comes from and what it stands for.

There is a balance between mainstream spirits and those we know our customers are looking for, but we should also be setting those trends for the customers as well.

Some products have a short-term vision and they can come across as quite gimmicky. My intention is to never launch a product that will only be around for a few months; it’s all about the long-term vision, but I accept sometimes it just doesn’t work. It might not be the right time for our customers, or it might be so innovative that perhaps the people who enjoy cocktails and spirits may not be ready for them and it needs time to settle into the on-trade first before it comes to the supermarket shelf.

I get lots of emails from speculative suppliers proposing their products. In a day I can get more than 20 enquiries. I can’t always reply to all of them. Bombarding me with emails is probably not the best way to go, but I do respect enthusiasm and passion. I rate potential new products on whether they have a strong vision and a strong marketing plan, whether they are entering competitions and winning awards, their recognition by the trade and press as a great product, and whether they are involved in trade shows. I have to recognise where that product fits within our strategy, and a lot of the time it is driven by what we need as a business or what I want to give the customer.

Brands looking for new listings need to know why they are approaching Waitrose. There are lots out there, but whether or not they are right for the Waitrose customer at this moment in time is something I expect the brand to be looking at, rather than just going after a listing.

Lately I’ve definitely noticed a consumer trend towards a bitter palate, so Campari has had consistently strong sales and we’ve seen huge growth with Aperol since we launched it, even throughout the winter months. We see that as an opportunity going forward.

We are well-known on the high street for our gins and the intention is to continue with that strength. Whisky does well for us too, and there has been a really strong trend in Bourbon sales.

Getting out to visit suppliers and distilleries to get closer to the product motivates me to bring great spirits into Waitrose. Being competition judge for The Spirits Business is also an amazing opportunity, it really gives me a good insight into what’s happening in the categories, what innovation is being delivered, and helps me keep in tune with the level of quality that’s out there. Recognising that brands are involved in competitions gives me the ability to evaluate them better.

I’m a big fan of gin, and there’s a lot of innovation happening right now, but there is a danger that the category could become oversaturated.

One category to look out for is definitely Tequila. There is so much about Tequila that we don’t understand yet as a UK consumer. Surprisingly, Tequila sales are really strong for Waitrose, and customers are buying into the higher styles and price points. I want to push the Tequila cocktail, rather than the shooting Tequila, with our customers.

Another trend for us is flavoured vodka and, where there is a shift to a more bitter palate, I’d like to think our customers are enjoying something quite unique. I appreciate the UK market is perhaps not as established in flavoured vodkas as the US, but the Brits have to do it the British way. We don’t have as sweet a tooth as the Americans, and for that reason I don’t have confidence in some of those slightly more polarised flavours. Stoli Salted Karamel and Chase Marmalade sell very well for us, but perhaps not the bubblegum vodkas. I’d prefer those more akin to the Waitrose palate.

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