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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 25th Jun 2021 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Creating buzz through limited edition releases, the importance of NEDs, the challenges of Natasha’s Law
Authors: Glynn Davis, Ann Elliott, Caroline Ellis

Creating buzz through limited edition releases by Glynn Davis

Visiting the Tillingham Winery in the rolling countryside on the edge of the East Sussex town of Rye was not only a relief to be out of stuffy London on what was a gloriously hot day but it also gave some insights into what hospitality businesses might well need to embrace in the post-covid-19 world.

Founded in 2018 by Ben Walgate, former chief executive of Gusbourne, it is an organic operation producing natural wine using biodynamic practices with 25 acres of planted vines on 70 acres of woodland that includes a working farm. Clearly the focus is primarily on wine production and retail but Walgate is well aware you need to tell your story to today’s consumers in order to get full buy-in. He therefore runs very popular – and lucrative – wine tours and within some of the old disused farm buildings has been incorporated a tasting room, pizza barn with bar, farm-to-fork restaurant, 11 rooms of accommodation, and a couple of yurts.

This diversification not only helps to sell the Tillingham wine but has also generated a very welcome 75% of sales as the covid-19-driven staycation phenomenon has meant a deluge of people have been beating a path to the winery. This has ensured its 150 covers are being fully utilised and its accommodation is already fully booked until November.

Demand has taken Walgate aback and he now reckons non-wine production could well account for 60% of sales into the future – even when all the vines are producing fruit and the annual output moves up from the 35,000 bottles in 2020 to nearer the 70,000 he intends to hit within the next few years. What he does not predict is having any problems with selling these wines.

Like all winemakers he has a finite output from the grapes he produces, which puts a natural cap on bottle numbers, but he also has the added cute angle of being very experimental in the variety of wine he makes. Last year he created 24 different wines from a variety of grapes and experimental production methods. This will continue as he has more than 20 different varieties under cultivation on the Tillingham land with various vessels in which to age the wine.

The genius of the model he is creating is in having small runs of constantly changing wine. And which in the short-life of the winery have been very much in demand. The very first release in May 2018 of 600 bottles of a Pet Nat wine PN17 in a clear bottle with a crown cap and artist-created screen printed label was a big hit. Its quality and very distinctive look made it a sensation on social media and this has helped pave the way for subsequent wines. Each release thereafter has been pre-sold with retailers fighting for an allocation. A mere six to 12 bottles is deemed a result.

Its wines to date have been made with bought-in grapes but in July the first bottles with home-grown grapes will be released. Saw Pit, made with the Pinot Meunier grape, will be sold in squat 500ml bottles at a healthy £45 and such is the expected demand that Walgate is considering placing some bottles in a limited edition pack with his next two wines – Field Blend 1 and Field Blend 2 – to create some buzz in the market. His acknowledges that his rather interesting challenge is notching up the price points while handling the allocations.

With this model he has effectively created a business where the regular “drop” is eagerly anticipated by consumers. It has been perfected by companies such as Nike, Adidas and Supreme and followed by other newer in-demand players in fashion such as WYSE London, which have built businesses with a constant schedule of new releases of the latest limited edition products that are either (extremely easily) pre-sold or used to generate demand online and queues outside selected physical stores.

Within hospitality we’ve seen the likes of the Restaurant Kits start-up benefiting from this dynamic. It has been developing a pipeline of meal kit drops that comprise limited edition boxes from certain high-profile chefs that will help it retain the attention of subscribers to its regular meal kit service. 

With the present shortages of employees and raw materials it might well be sensible for restaurants and bars to investigate how they might be able to join this world of exclusive, limited edition propositions that command higher price points. With a growing number of restaurants limiting their opening times the bog-standard booking for dinner might well be on the way to effectively becoming a limited edition affair with prices to match high customer demand and rarity value.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends

The importance of NEDs by Ann Elliott

Will Beckett, the founder of Hawksmoor, was a mentor on the Plan B mentoring programme this week alongside Jo Fleet, Bryan Griffiths and Juliett Campbell. Plan B mentoring hosts regular speed mentoring sessions to help talented women to be the best they can be and to progress in hospitality – hopefully to board level. Our mentors at an earlier session this month included Jonathan Arana Morton, Penny Manuel, Maurice Abboudi and Simon Kaye. I have to say, our mentees have the most fantastic mentors on this programme. Sorry, I digress.

Will was asked why he chose to be a Plan B mentor and he said he was really enjoying being the chairman of Rockfish. It was great to be able to help and advise a business, objectively, without having day-to-day executive responsibility. In some ways that's a bit like mentoring. Being able to question and challenge constructively and positively with only the best possible interests of the mentee at heart.

It made me think about all the many businesses out there that could help by having people such as Will involved as non-executive directors (NEDs) on their boards – particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). There are so many incredibly talented people in this sector who would willingly provide their support and expertise in order to help a business thrive and for not a lot of money, considering the benefits.

I asked Neil Sebba, managing director at Tossed, for his view. He said: “I think selecting the right non-executive directors is one of the most important decisions owner-managers and entrepreneurs can make. It requires introspection and a realistic assessment of your own and your executive board's strengths and weaknesses, and an assessment of the characters that you can work with well, but that will challenge you. Get it right, and they will help you be the best directors you can be, running the best version of your business.”

And Matt Kearsey, of Hall & Woodhouse concurred. He said: “NEDs provide an important, alternative voice in the conversation. Our executive team spends a lot of time together, which is great for co-operation and collaboration, but there is also the risk of group think and subjectivity bias. The best decisions come from encouraging a diverse range of views and our NEDs provide us with objective, independent, and often challenging thinking. Their experience, expertise and contacts help us create better strategic direction; their support means the executive team doesn't feel isolated or lacking in help, and their independence performs the important role of effective oversight of the executive team. I can't imagine our board without them.”

Julian Ross, founder of Wireless Social, has several NEDs and said: “I am a huge believer in having multiple NED's. I've been questioned about it many times. I'd have ten, if people wouldn't frown at me about it, and look at me as if I've gone bonkers!” He said the reasons, in no particular order, were:
• Sounding board and a mentor – it can be lonely in the managing director’s role
• Connections – my business wouldn’t be here without them
• Keeping focus. Being asked difficult/challenging questions
• A calming influence, particularly in a crisis
• Specific expertise to plug a gap – marketing, finance
• Sector expertise

Matt Snell, managing director at Gusto, told me: “The best NED's don’t try to be executives; they won’t try and make decisions for the executive directors or push them into a specific route because that's their preference. Instead, they ask difficult questions, challenge executive assumptions, look for unintended consequences and most importantly act as a conscience around decision making as a whole. We know they have our best interests at heart and will provide constructive feedback in a positive way that helps us be more successful. It's a really important role for us and one we take incredibly seriously.”

If you run a business, particularly an SME and would like the help of a NED, then the best way to find the right one for you, undoubtedly, is to let your contacts know and to ask for recommendations. They will know you and be able to suggest best-fit candidates. Seems obvious but write a spec of what sort of person you want, and what you want them to do, and then interview against that. Chemistry is critical. The comments from the managing directors above might prompt some thinking.

If you are someone looking for a NED role to help businesses succeed, then the same sort of thinking applies. Know what you want and the sort of company you want to join/not join. Let your contacts know and potentially contact the companies you like, directly. As the saying goes “What would you do if you weren't afraid?”

It is a joy being a NED. It is without doubt, the best part of my career to date.
Ann Elliott is a hospitality strategist, connector and adviser

The challenges of Natasha’s Law by Caroline Ellis

By now, you will most likely know what Natasha’s Law is and the reason for its being. From 1 October any business in Wales, England or Northern Ireland that produces pre-packed for direct sale food (PPDS) will need the label to display the name of the food and a full ingredients list with any of the 14 main allergen ingredients clearly highlighted. The new law is intended to provide greater safety and confidence to the millions of people in the UK living with food allergies when purchasing pre-packed food and follows the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died after eating a baguette containing sesame, to which she was allergic, but was not listed on the packaging.

While 1 October 2021 has been in the diary for two years as the date Natasha’s Law comes into effect, all in the hospitality industry would be forgiven for being unavoidably distracted by the global pandemic. It demanded the focus be solely on the task of ensuring businesses survive during the multiple lockdowns, the ever-changing tiered restrictions and more recently, the staffing and supply issues.

Nevertheless, with just over three months to go, any PPDS must adhere to the new rules. And it seems this may present some traders with a number of challenges. The first is understanding whether Natasha’s Law applies to your business, which means knowing the following for all your food offerings as each variable might have different labelling requirements: 
• The difference between pre-packed (packed by one business and supplied to another business), pre-packed for direct sale (food that is packaged at the same place it is offered or sold to consumers and is in this packaging before it is ordered or selected) and non-pre-packed (food that is not in packaging or is packaged after being ordered by the consumer)
• How the consumer orders the food. If in your business the food is packaged at the same place it is offered or sold then it is PPDS while for food items ordered by phone/online mandatory allergen information must be available to the consumer before they purchase the product and also at the point of delivery. The website will help you negotiate this labelling maze to ensure you are providing the required information. 

A further challenge is the cost to businesses and especially independent operators and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The size of your business means you may not already have the required roles and systems in place that will facilitate the provision of accurate and up-to-date information for ingredient lists. This, coupled with 16 months of interrupted trading and predictions that returning to pre-covid trading levels could take two years to achieve, the budget to invest in such resource and technology solutions could be prohibitive.

With the date fast approaching, suppliers and technology providers will have been analysing, scoping and developing a solution within their own suite of software to solve their piece of the problem. The challenge is ensuring the end-to-end journey works and is efficient. The required data is likely to involve passing through multiple systems from supplier to recipe management to the menu to the printer. The end result of a legally compliant label on a PPDS item can only be achieved if all providers work cohesively and at speed.

Ensuring accurate and safe information is a continuous challenge. Always having to provide the consumer with real-time and accurate information means the days of a chef sprinting to the supermarket to grab a trolley full of burger buns and frozen chips on an unexpectedly sunny bank holiday Monday, are almost certainly numbered. The ability to be flexible, accept substitutions and quickly provide updated information to guests is critical when choosing technology partners. A complex data flow together with clunky or non-existent processes will harm businesses already dealing with unprecedented challenges. 

The reasons for Natasha’s Law is to ensure the safety of the consumer. The challenge with displaying labels (with full ingredient lists) on some food and not on others is the consumer may not understand why they can’t see the same data for the entire offer. Will a customer with a nut allergy, or team member for that matter, understand why a still warm macadamia nut cookie in a display counter is not sold with a label, when a cellophane-wrapped almond croissant next to it is? It’s fair to assume consumers will want or expect to see the same level of information for all foods on offer, regardless of whether they are packaged or not? Having options to expose this data to them digitally should be considered. More and more of us are keen to know the provenance, seasonality and carbon footprint of the food we eat so it’s a good guess to believe they’ll want to know the ingredient lists too. 

The good news is there are ways to lessen the impact of the new legislation:
• In the short term, you could remove the need for PPDS compliance by removing the food items that require the labelling information or replace with alternatives prepared off-site. Literally, remove the challenges. 
• Refine your menus and have fewer ingredients that are shared between recipes and benefit from the likely bonus of reduced wastage.
• Choose the right technology partners for your needs that can readily integrate with relevant parties within required timescales and can satisfy your future needs such as the imminent calorie labelling regulations.
• Select label printers that have version control to safeguard the integrity of the data. 
• Expose non-PPDS recipes digitally with all the relevant PPDS information, why not share ingredient lists with customers if you have the data anyway. If possible, invest in digital screens/tablets for customers to use to access the recipes or provide QR codes so they can see them on their own devices. 
• For consistency, safety and an enhanced experience for customers and team members, provide the same level of information for all food items. There are way more allergens than the 14 that currently have to be declared so make this data readily available.

In summary, Natasha’s Law is coming and may herald the start of more regulatory changes so it would be wise to prepare now as there is still time to be ready and mitigate the challenges you may face in doing so. 
Caroline Ellis is a customer success manager at Ten Kites

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