Interview - Lucy Bearman, Pernod Ricard UK wine portfolio director
From Ibiza-inspired rosé to a brand dedicated to dogs, Pernod Ricard UK’s wine portfolio director Lucy Bearman tells Lucy Britner how she got into the business – and what we can expect next
Lucy Bearman broke her back. And that’s how she ended up in the wine trade. The now wine portfolio director for Pernod Ricard UK fell off a horse and, after three months of convalescing, she decided it was time for a big change.
“I decided to get on a plane to Australia,” she says. “It was a life-changing moment. That’s where I fell in love with the industry – the wineries, the people, the characters, the winemaking, the terroir, the cellar doors are amazing. I mean, Australia is phenomenal.”
Bearman started her wine career at a previous incarnation of Treasury Wine Estates, and she mentions both Penfolds and the brand’s legendary winemaker Peter Gago as she talks about her beginnings in the industry.
Then, around 10 years ago, she was head-hunted to join Pernod Ricard. And despite her love of Australia, Bearman says Rioja’s “Campo Viejo was my star brand – it was the one I wanted to work on”.
“I had travelled a lot through Europe and Spain and done a language degree, so that was something I was really excited about.”
Bearman has held several roles at Pernod Ricard, including ones helping the company to develop the strategy for its wine business, leading teams across marketing and category management. During her tenure, the wine department has seen major changes and new launches.
“Over the past 10 years, Campo Viejo has gone from number 30 to number seven in the charts,” she says – the charts being Nielsen volume and value MAT figures to September 10, 2022.
She says New Zealand’s Montana had just rebranded as Brancott Estate when she joined, “so really it was like a new brand. We did a lot to drive awareness around that”. And she reveals some big plans for Brancott later in our conversation.
Bearman’s current role at Pernod Ricard came about in 2020, when the company created the position of wine portfolio director in an effort to build on the momentum gained by its wine brands in the off-trade during lockdown.
In its latest results for the three months to the end of September, the company reported a “soft start notably from [the] wine portfolio” in the UK market, citing a high comparison base with staycations in the year to June 30. Bearman highlights a return to pre-pandemic levels.
“I think we’re still working through the Jacob’s Creek situation where we’ve taken a view to premiumise the portfolio,” she says. “So that’s a volume impact and we’re coming to the end of that, really.”
The other impacts, she says, are last year’s smaller harvest in New Zealand as well as “the staycation piece – we definitely did see an uptick last year”.
The more premium Jacob’s Creek Double Barrel range saw the addition of Cabernet Sauvignon in mid-2021 and, besides existing brands, Bearman and the Pernod new product development machine were busy during Covid. She and her team brought four new brands to market: Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; Argentinian brand Cafayete; Australian range Leaps & Bounds, which champions dogs and has partnered with charity The Dog’s Trust; and recent launch Castillo de Ibiza rosé.
There are also plans to move Brancott beyond New Zealand, with the release of an Australian Pinot Grigio. “Future plans might not restrict it to Australia and New Zealand,” Bearman reveals.
In terms of the overarching consumer trends behind this NPD, Bearman talks about continued premiumisation, sustainability – including brands with purpose – and brands that are playful or appeal to the next generation of wine drinkers.
“From a premiumisation point of view, we’re seeing that actually premium is the fastest-growing category, so it’s £7.50 to £10,” says Bearman.
“That’s really the sweet spot. The average price in the category is £6.40, so it’s that trading up, that lipstick effect.”
Going forward, consumer confidence remains on shaky ground, while the trade awaits changes to duty. For Bearman, this means people are more likely to drink wine at home.
“People are starting to tighten the purse strings, which will mean some will leave the wine category, they’ll just choose not to drink wine, it’s too expensive. But for those fortunate enough to be able to still afford it, we will potentially see premiumisation continue,” she says.
“That’s what we’ve seen in the past, as people treat themselves because they’re not going out to the pub for dinner.” She also says this could mean the removal of some of the value end of the market.
In terms of sustainability, like many in the trade, she mentions the Nordic markets and their pioneering approach to packaging – especially bag-in-box. While Pernod has BiB in other markets, the company is still developing something for the UK.
“It’s definitely something we’re looking at,” says Bearman, without revealing any more details. And when we talk about how to push the concept forward, she believes success requires a joint effort from producers and retailers.
“As suppliers, we can definitely do a job on marketing and that’s the plan. We’re looking at ‘how we can we build the dream’ a bit more around bag-in-box.”
She says some consumers still feel the packaging represents cheap wine, so there’s work to do on changing the image.
“From a retail point of view, giving it more space and supporting those messages,” she adds. When it comes to a new generation of drinkers, Bearman’s current favourite Friday night drink, Castillo de Ibiza, gets a mention.
“It’s a bloody good drop,” she says. Maybe Bearman’s next life-changing plane ride will be to the White Island. Just as long as it doesn’t involve a broken back.