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Victoria Wine

The Victoria Wine Company was one of the largest High Street retailers of wines and spirits in the UK. Seen as a profitable business by big companies in the alcoholic beverage industry, the company went through a series of takeovers, mergers, and amalgamation for over a century.

However, Victoria Wine, just like many companies in the UK and the US in 1998, suffered drastically during the global recession, and attempted to be revived through another merger, but later inevitably fell under administration in 2009.

Victoria Wine Company is not connected or affiliated with Victoria Wines Limited, which was established in Hong Kong in 2012.

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Background and History

The year was 1865, four years after the first off-premise licenses and reduction on the duty on imported French wine, when William Winch Hughes founded the Victoria Wine Co. in the city of London. During those years, wine was mostly consumed by the elite. Hughes imported his own wine directly, avoiding intermediaries to keep his wine prices low.  He also offered free delivery for his products. His strategy enabled him to introduce wine consumption for the lower and middle classes. [1]

The company later expanded in the middle suburbs, and East London with 63 shops by 1879. In managing the stores, Hughes took a different approach, believing that women are more responsible and sober than men, he appointed them as shop managers. [2]

Hughes died in 1886, leaving 98 shops across England selling cheap Spanish and Portuguese wines and expensive ones like Saumur “champagne”, which is a misnomer since Saumur does not originate from the Champagne region of France.

After the phylloxera epidemic which destroyed most European vineyards during the 1880s, Victoria Wine Co. started offering whiskies to its customers. Victoria Wine Co. continued to do well but no longer expanded. After the death of Emma, the wife of Hughes, Frank Wood bought the shares of the beneficiaries of the decedent, which gave him full control of Victoria. Wine Co.  He later turned Victoria Wine Co. into a private limited company in 1920. After Wood’s death in 1924 the company was bought by Sir Charles Edward Collier who turned Victoria Wine Co. into a public company. In 1929, Collier died and brewers Taylor and Walker bought Victoria Wine Co. Decades later until the turn of the century, a series of takeovers and mergers involving Victoria Wine Co. would follow suit. [3]

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The aftermath of World War I brought about an increase consumption of alcoholic beverages, but not for wine. However, Victoria Wine which has been selling cheap wine to the masses performed better than other wine merchants during the decline.

In 1959, Taylor and Walker was taken over by Ind Coope, who later on joined Tetley Walker and Ansell to form Allied Breweries.[4] Allied Breweries sold it’s wine through Victoria Wine shops. In 1978, Allied Breweries joined J. Lyons and Co., the food and catering company, to form Allied Lyons. Allied Lyons would then merge with Pedro Domecq to form Allied Domecq in 1994, and just four years later, the latter’s wine retail branch would merge with Threshers, which is owned by Whitbread to form First Quench Retailing. The 50-50 merger controlled 30% of the High Street off-licence business with over 3,000 branches. [5] [6]

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First Quench Retailing Enters into Administration

First Quench Retailing, at the time of the merger, had 20,000 employees. This number reduced gradually to 6,300, until First Quench Retailing entered into administration on 29 October 2009 after suffering from aggressive discounting by supermarkets, which was further aggravated by the 1998 recession.

The brand names of Thresher, The Local, Bottoms Up, including Victoria Wine was subsequently purchased by the Dave’s Discount Group. Dave’s Discount Group is owned by SEP Properties which is a consultancy and commercial property investment firm. SEP was able to save around 700 employees out of a total of 6,300. The firm plans to revive the said brands through a strong online retail presence similar to Majestic Wine. [7] [8]

More than 700 companies showed interest in buying the off-licence chains.[9] While specialist commercial estate agents Christie tried to sell the leases of 280 shops, they had to refuse most of the offers because they were too low. Aside from companies, buyers also included small family businesses who are interested in operating from one or two shops. KPMG finally sold 400 stores of Threshers to a majority of small off-licence chains, while the remaining 1,000 shops were returned to landlords.[10] [11]

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[1] Ardoun, S. The Victoria Wine Company, South Norwood. 14 January 2010. http://paintedsignsandmosaics.blogspot.com/2010/01/victoria-wine-company.html

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Identity Statement. ALLIED BREWERIES: VICTORIA WINE COMPANY LIMITED. AIM25. https://aim25.com/cgi-bin/vcdf/detail?coll_id=13741&inst_id=118&nv1=search&nv2=

[5] First Quench Retialing. Revolvy. https://www.revolvy.com/page/First-Quench-Retailing

[6] Cope, N. Victoria Wine and Thresher to merge. Independent. 3 August 1998. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/victoria-wine-and-thresher-to-merge-1169381.html

[7] Moya, E. Threshers and Victoria Wine live on. The Guardian. 6 Jan 2010. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2010/jan/06/threshers-victoria-wine-brands-live-on

[8] First Quench Retialing. Revolvy. https://www.revolvy.com/page/First-Quench-Retailing

[9] Firms line up to buy Threshers branches. Mirror. 10 November 2009. https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/city-news/firms-line-up-to-buy-threshers-430049

[10] Moya, E. Threshers and Victoria Wine live on. The Guardian. 6 Jan 2010. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2010/jan/06/threshers-victoria-wine-brands-live-on

[11] Threshers stores fail to reopen. BBC, 8 November 2010. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-11705643