Supermarkets Top The Bill At UK Drinks Awards

The Drinks Retailing Awards are the first major drinks event of each year in the UK, and it was the major supermarkets who took home the majority of the top prizes at this week’s award ceremony. London’s famous and luxurious five star Dorchester Hotel played host to the evening of celebration, but it was those at the budget end of the drinks market who were picking up the accolades.

The happiest of all the supermarkets will have been Morrisons, which was not only named ‘Multiple Beer Retailer of the Year’ but also picked up ‘Multiple Wine Retailer of the Year’, two of the most prestigious awards the ceremony offers. They saw off stiff competition from both Tesco and the Co-op in both categories, which high-end retailer Waitrose also in among the running. As if that wasn’t enough; Morrisons was also named ‘Supermarket of the Year,’ although that award was almost inevitable after the two earlier wins. They wrestled away the crown from Waitrose, who won in the same category last year.


Morrisons’ evening of success didn’t mean a complete shut-out from the prizes for other retailers, though. The Co-op has enjoyed a particularly strong year on the drinks front, and was rewarded by being named both ‘Innovative Retailer of the Year’ and ‘Convenience Chain of the Year. Waitrose still took a place at the winner’s table with ‘Multiple Sparkling Wine and Champagne Retailer of the Year’ and ‘Multiple Cider Retailer Of The Year’, too. The equivalent award for retailing spirits went to Asda, which suggests that almost every big supermarket brand now specialises in one aspect of selling drinks.

The big name we haven’t mentioned yet, and you’d probably expect to see here, is Tesco. It wasn’t the best night at the awards ceremony that the massive company has ever had, but they were still recognized as having the ‘Drinks Buying Team of the Year’ and also the individual ‘Retailer Promotion of the Year’, so things could have been worse. They’ll be hoping to do better this time next year.


The night wasn’t all about the household names though; the ‘Multiple’ awards are almost exclusively for supermarkets, because only businesses who own ten or more stores qualify for consideration as winners. There are also independent and specific categories open to single stores or small chains, and they also had plenty to celebrate by the time the night was over. One such store is London’s Hedonism, which collected the award for ‘Independent Sparkling Wine and Champagne Retailer of the Year’ as well as ‘Luxury Retailer of the Year.’ Hedonism has long been a favourite of wine connoisseurs living in London’s capital, and this is the third consecutive year in which they’ve won the ‘Luxury’ category. We can probably expect to see that fact used to good effect in their promotional material from now on.

London’s Hedonism

Moving on to the less well-known names, the hotly contested Independent Beer Award went to House of the Trembling Madness. The brewing of independent beer is exploding in popularity in the United Kingdom at the moment, and achieving recognition of any kind is increasingly difficult in such a crowded market. House of Trembling Madness ought to be doubly proud of their award for that reason, as should Pilango Cider Vault, who won the equivalent award for cider. There may not be as many cider brewers as there are beer brewers, but there’s still plenty of competition. It’s especially surprising to see a London company win a cider award; this is the first time Pilango have ever won an award at the ceremony, and the category usually selects winners from the cider brewing hotspots of Devon, Cornwall, and Bristol.

House of the Trembling Madness

Any competition that pits Cambridge against Oxford is bound to be intense, as several generations of ‘University Challenge’ and boat race contestants will tell you. The old rivals found themselves going toe to toe once again for regional Chain of the Year, where Oxford Wine Co faced off against Cambridge Wine Merchants. It was Oxford that ultimately came out on top.

The Whisky Exchange have dominated the ‘Independent Spirits Retailer of the Year’ category ever since the first awards ceremony in 2008, only failing to win on two occasions. They didn’t let their high standard slip in 2018, and picked up the same prize yet again. They’ve also been frequent winners of the ‘Online Retailer of the Year’ award, but missed out on this occasion, with rival company Master of Malt picking up the victory for the first time since 2013 and ending a six-year drought of awards for their company.

There were plenty more awards given out on the night, with the official website of the Drinks Retailing Awards about to be updated to publish the full list to anyone interested. What was abundantly clear, though, was that it’s been another excellent year for the beers, wines and spirits industries within the UK, which is managing to remain buoyant despite a perceived drop in the amount the average Brit drinks, and the ongoing closure of many traditional pubs within the country. The success of the supermarket and independent stores suggest that people are instead buying alcohol and drinking it at home, rather than going to pubs or bars.

While that’s great news for the retailers, it’s not so great for either the independent or chain pubs, who need to find new ways to attract drinkers through their doors. With 18 pubs closing every week, there will soon be more people playing the ‘Down the Pub’ slot game at Rose Slots than there are people drinking in real brick-and-mortar pubs. Perhaps the popularity of that slot is an indication of where pubs need to look for marketing opportunities? Once upon a time, slot machines stood in the corner of pubs as a way of boosting the landlord’s takings. Now slots have moved online, it may be that pubs could benefit from following them and advertising with online slot websites.

In any event, all of the award winners and nominees will now be celebrating or commiserating, and working out how to go about the task of either retaining or achieving prizes next year. The panel who decide the awards looks at a range of metrics to determine who the worthy winners of the categories are, including YouGov polls. If you have a favourite independent beer, wine or spirit store near you, consider telling them about the awards and encouraging them to put themselves forward for it, and then get on YouGov and wait to be asked your opinion on them. The vast majority of retailers consider even receiving a nomination for an award to be a significant honour, and with it comes both free publicity and an accolade to use in promotional campaigns for the next year.