The Drinks Industry awaits clarity on what classifies as an "essential business"

The drinks industry is currently awaiting guidance on what classifies as an “essential” business, following the Government’s new guidelines yesterday, whereby all shops selling “non-essential goods” will be closed down with immediate effect. 

The Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) is currently asking for clarity on this subject while Defra is in talks with the Government this morning to obtain more guidance on a range of businesses across the UK. 

In the US, liquor stores have been allowed to remain open because the “beverage alcohol business” continues to be declared as part of “essential”, with some exceptions. 

At the moment it is understood that in the UK wine shops have to close their doors to the public but it is probable that shops with a delivery service and also online retailers will be allowed to continue to operate, but again more clarity on this is needed.

As a result of the announcement last night a number of retailers have already made the decision to temporarily stop operating. 

Majestic Wine is closing its doors to walk-in customers but it will still offer home delivery. 

The Wine Society announced this morning it was stopping its business “with immediate effect” until it is safe to operate again. It said it has made this decision because the health of its staff is the number one priority. 

The current restrictions are to be kept under “constant review”, according to the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. 

He said: “We will look again in three weeks and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to. But at present there are just no easy options. The way ahead is hard.”

Separately, tighter measures have been in place for a number of weeks across various European countries including Spain, Italy and France. In these countries agricultural businesses have been allowed to remain open, and are classified as "essential business". 

Speaking to DRN last night, Pierre Mansour, The Wine Society's head of wine buying, explained: “Currently the information we have suggests that supply chains from Europe are ok. There is a bit of disruption across borders as transport drivers need to be health checked, but in general it is ok. The future is quite uncertain so we have not banked on the fact wine will continue to enjoy consistent supply chain activity but as it stands today it is ok. 

“But what we are hearing from our suppliers in Europe (the majority of our suppliers are from Italy and France and they are small or medium-sized producers), is that when the governments have started shutting businesses down they still consider agriculture as essential and therefore wine is regarded as an essential sector.

"However all of the focus of the suppliers is in the vineyards and less in the wineries. So that means that currently it is great for the growers because they are safeguarding vintage 2020."

In the wineries, however, he explained that if wine is already in bottles then suppliers can arrange to collect these but a lack of staff in the wineries means that if wine is currently in bulk it is harder to find people to help get it into bottles. 

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