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Confessions of a retailer: Majestic Wine

The spirits buyer for the UK’s Majestic Wine chain highlights the importance of knowledgeable staff and discusses a new focus on local producers.

Beth Pearce, spirits buyer at Majestic Wines

As a spirits buyer, what qualities do you look for in a new product?

The best spirits are eye­-catching on the shelf, with an authentic and quality-focused story. I always prefer something our customers can get creative with; a spirit only suitable for one elaborate serve is unlikely to appeal. Ultimately, the number-­one thing I’m looking for is exceptional quality.

What is the best way for new spirit producers to get their products stocked in your stores?

It’s a crowded market, but as a team we try to get a resounding ‘wow’ from spirits that really stand out. Quite often, the route is through local listings. Our stores have responsibility for ranges unique to them and, if slots are available, will opt for new lines from their regions. Many of our best gins have come into the range this way before being rolled out nationally.

Have you got any exciting products you want to tell our readers about?

We are launching a new brand this December – Fyr. It’s a Scandinavian-inspired gin distilled with Norway Spruce, giving it a lovely piney nose. I tasted around 100 gins to work out the flavour profile, and helped blend the final recipe, so I am excited to drink it this Christmas.

What is your best-selling spirit?

Flavoured gins seem to be a real focus for our customers, with rhubarb, cucumber and elderflower selling well.

How important have spirits become to Majestic?

Very important; we’ve found great spirits with great stories resonate with our customers, and as a result, we’ve seen that total sales have grown by 100% for two years running. Spirits now account for 5% of Majestic’s retail turnover. Spirits also play an important role in the engagement of our customers. Our stores love running dedicated tastings with a huge range of garnishes and combinations – it makes for an incredible, interactive and fun shopping experience.

Do you have plans to strengthen your spirits focus further?

It’s definitely still an area of growth. Our competitors are introducing more and more interesting premium spirits themselves, so my job is to make sure we have the most interesting premium and craft range in the market.

How do you remain competitive?

We’ve got a key unique selling point in our staff. Our store teams can walk customers through our range and offer tasting samples, which really helps the less well-known brands. They are even running bespoke spirits masterclasses in store for customers, as part of The Tasting Club.

What are the most challenging and exciting aspects of your job?

The biggest challenge is keeping up with the number of new distilleries and spirits brands entering the market. The most exciting thing is when a new product impresses and we can help build a brand.

Which spirits trend is exciting you at the moment, and why?

We’re seeing some real interest in spiced rums at the moment, which is exciting because they are so delicious. Customers are also increasingly interested in different mixers and garnishes. I’ve become besotted with Dark Matter, which is our new­ish Scottish rum. Where some producers have history on their side, it’s exciting to see how the new wave are interpreting tradition.

What plans do you have for the year ahead?

We’re building a fantastic local range of spirits, helped by all the great distilleries and brands starting up around the country. Soon we should have every store stocking their favourite local spirit. The best way for a new distiller to get involved is to build a relationship with their local managers.

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