21.07.21

Spotlight Interview: Guy Hodcroft (Master of Malt)

Master of Malt is one of the biggest online alcohol retailers in the UK, they hold over 15,000 SKUs and have a whopping 5.5 million visitors per month to their website. Guy Hodcroft is their spirits buyer and someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the spirits industry.  He is in a unique position to gain insights into the latest spirits trends and consumer buying behaviours. Phil was lucky enough to catch up with Guy last week and they had a good chance to chat about various subjects.

 

How did your career in the drinks industry start?

 

Well, I had an introduction to wine when I was a teenageer working in a restaurant in Spain. There was a fantastic sommelier who taught me a lot about wine and how to talk about drinks in general. I fell in love with wine and progressed to being a sommelier in some great restaurants in Spain.  

 

When I came back to the UK I started working in Selfridges and progressed to being in the buying team for wines and spirits. Over time I ended up being the spirits buyer, which was great!

 

In Selfridges our aim was to stock the cream of the crop and guide the market to a certain extent. Having a limited shelf space meant that we were constantly culling and had to employ a one in one out policy for categories. We would proactively go and find producers and products that we thought would fit the Selfridges customer. 

 

When I left Selfridges I came to Master of Malt as the buyer. I have a lot more freedom to list products here as we are not constrained by shelf space. We get approached by dozens of brands a week and we want to provide the customer with as much choice as possible.  

 

If you had to pick one, what’s the proudest moment from your years in the industry?

 

I can’t point to one moment in particular that stands out to me. But I always love it when I’ve found and listed a really good new product. If you list something good, first, that gives you a good feeling.

 

What projects are you currently involved in?

 

We are about to launch a catalogue of exclusives to Master of Malt. We are starting with twelve products, very limited releases, most of them single casks. They’ll all be from great distilleries, but you’ll only be able to buy them through Master Of Malt. I’ve not finalised all the pricing yet, but there will be a good range in prices, so something for everyone.

 

It’s been great fun researching all of this and pulling the catalogue together, I can’t go into too much detail without revealing the producers, but I think people will be impressed when we announce the lineup.  

 

What pitfalls do you think drink brands fall into when creating new products and taking them to market?

 

I notice that quite a few brands don’t understand legislation in different markets, for instance you can’t try and sell a two year old whisky in the UK. I also get told by quite a few brands that they are ‘the world’s first’ when we might already have something listed which is the same. What is successful in another market doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be successful in the UK market.

 

If you’re trying to create and sell a new product, do your homework and don’t make claims that can’t be substantiated.  

 

What would be your core piece of advice to new brands creating new spirits?

 

Understand the purpose of your product and understand the gap in the market that you are trying to target. It’s about doing your homework again.

 

What trends have you noticed in consumer tastes that you think are here to stay?

 

The past year and a half has seen a lot of upheaval in consumer behaviour [due to the outbreak of COVID-19].  Early in lockdown 2020 we saw a significant uplift in sales of big name brands, but we put that down to people not being able to get those brands via supermarkets etc.  

 

What lockdown certainly has done is to introduce many more people to online shopping and buying alcohol online, we believe that this trend will continue.  We have 5.5 million monthly visitors to the Master of Malt website which is significantly above pre Covid levels.

 

In terms of drinks we have seen a big increase in premium RTDs and hard seltzers even though buying this kind of format online is perhaps not the most convenient. At the really premium end of the market we’ve seen bars and mixologists creating pre batch cocktails and I think there’s a good market out there for this style of drinks.  More people will be drinking at home and these provide a really sophisticated solution to those wanting a great tasting cocktail without the fuss.  

 

What do you make of the challenges facing the drinks industry due to the pandemic and how do you think brands, retailers and bars will have to adapt to overcome them?

 

There seems to be a progression towards more D2C sales.  People want to buy straight from the producers in many instances. This is something that we are helping some of our brands fulfil. This trend could turn into a bit of a problem for retailers such as Master Of Malt, but we’ll just have to keep on innovating ourselves.  

 

I think that bars have the biggest challenge at the moment and the ongoing issues of ‘track and trace’ is a nightmare for the on trade in general.  I hope the issue is resolved soon so that bars can resume trading normally!

 

 

Thanks to Guy for his time and providing us with some great insights into what a spirits buyer thinks about when they are analysing products. He really does have a unique perspective into what’s happening with trends and consumer behaviour…seeing 50 new products a day is quite incredible.

 

We are excited to see what brands are in the catalogue of exclusives. But before that we raise a glass of something cool and fizzy to Guy!  

Thanks to Guy for his time and providing us with some great insights into what a spirits buyer thinks about when they are analysing products. He really does have a unique perspective into what’s happening with trends and consumer behaviour…seeing 50 new products a day is quite incredible.

 

We are excited to see what brands are in the catalogue of exclusives. But before that we raise a glass of something cool and fizzy to Guy!  

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