Tesco BWS director sees a drinks industry bursting with opportunities

Tesco BWS director Rob Cooke has challenged suppliers to bring more genuine innovation to the market in order to maintain a thriving drinks industry.

Cooke took over from Gavin Warburton in the top role at Tesco’s alcoholic drinks division back in August 2017. The retailer’s BWS team has since drawn praise from several suppliers for its ranging, merchandising and retail practices.

Sales of beer, cider, spirits and wine have been strong for Tesco over the past year, but Cooke is not resting on his laurels and he is seeking interesting products to bolster its performance.

“We get presented with a huge volume of new products,” he said. “The challenge is not so much in the amount of new product development, but the amount of genuine innovation. We need less duplication and more customer-focused and differentiated products.”

Cooke sees opportunities to drive growth in a range of different categories and he wants to foster a fun, dynamic environment for his team to learn and thrive in.

He said: “I want BWS in Tesco to be a great place to work – a brilliant learning experience and good fun too. For customers, I want to provide great products, great value and a great shopping trip. For suppliers, I want us to be the partner of choice, so they work with us because they want to, rather than need to.

“We see opportunities in pretty much every area. No/low Alcohol is clearly a focus. There are huge quality leaps being made in this category and we can now offer customers a real choice, without a taste compromise.

“I think the new product development in this area will be particularly compelling over the coming year.

“I also think we have pushed the boundaries of what customers expect from a supermarket craft beer range. This is also an area we will continue to innovate in.”

The retail industry is facing a number of challenges, but Cooke is pleased with the progress his team has made.

“I am very comfortable with the performance of all my categories, though there are obviously some hot categories, like gin and craft beer,” he said. “I am also delighted with the work done on our Tesco Finest wine range, which is going from strength to strength.”

The retailer’s Finest Barolo and Finest Amarone just won gold medals at the International Wine Challenge, and wine product development manager Charlotte Lemoine said: “It’s really important to us that the Tesco Finest wines deliver, not only in terms of taste and quality, but also that they are authentic expressions of their terroir and style. This is particularly important for the well-loved classics in the range, a category that the Barolo and Amarone definitely fall into.

“As special occasion wines – not to mention Italian icons – there’s added pressure to ensure they live up to the big names on the label. We were confident that these wines did just that, but it’s absolutely fantastic to have received this recognition of their quality from the IWC.”

When asked for his highlights over the past 16 months, Cooke added: “I am extremely proud to have been able to work with such a passionate and driven team, who genuinely go the extra mile for customers every day. They have responded brilliantly to the strategy changes we have made and have delivered above and beyond expectations. 

“I have also been impressed with the capability and commitment of our supply partners, who have embraced the plan and contributed hugely to our success.

“On a personal note, seeing the difference that the Fairtrade premium makes on the projects we support in South Africa was very humbling. Finally, as a whisky lover, attending the opening of the new Macallan distillery was pretty special.”

We also asked if there was anything he would do differently and he said: “I think you have to make the best decisions you can with the information you have available. Over the years I have come to accept that you get some right and make some bad calls along the way. Success is winning more than you lose.

“Looking back, I think we set out a plan and executed it very well. With the benefit of additional data, there are clearly opportunities to improve. The time I get worried is the time those opportunities dry up.”

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