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Media Interview with Lucy Britner, editor at Drinks Retailing

Lucy Britner

Drinks Retailing‘s Lucy Britner has spent close to two decades covering various sectors within the hospitality industry, from drinks to food and restaurants. Originally starting out as reporter for the Morning Advertiser, Lucy has remained in the sector and sharpened her knowledge, which has seen her inducted as a Keepers of the Quaich.

We talk to her about adapting to changes in the retail world and what the future looks like for the drinks industry.

You’ve been in the industry for over 16 years, primarily focusing on food and drink. What drew you to the sector and what keeps you working in it?

My degree had a module on trade journalism and I really enjoyed the more detailed level of writing that B2B often entails. Plus, when I compared starting salaries for local newspapers vs trade magazines, it seemed like a no-brainer. So, I applied to a few trade mags and got a reporter job on the Morning Advertiser, a pub trade publication owned by William Reed. The drinks industry is great fun – full of life and characters. The way the industry shifts also reflects wider cultural changes – a bit like what we’re seeing now with the boom in low- and no-alcohol drinks.

The pandemic has been particularly hard on the hospitality industry. What do you think the lasting impacts will be?

I think some people will remain cautious when it comes to mixing inside, while others will have become used to entertaining at home. This means drinkers will want to go out for an experience that they can’t get at home.

Elsewhere, contactless technology (for payments and ordering) will remain commonplace in pubs and bars because consumers are used to the convenience. And venues that moved to introduce an off-sales element will probably continue to do so. Unfortunately there will be many businesses that can’t reopen, which in turn means there will be new entrants into the market. 

Conversely, a number of online retailers have thrived. Have you noticed any trends emerging recently?

Many retailers accelerated plans to launch ecommerce propositions and those who had already dipped their toe worked hard to improve their websites. But something else happened, too: Drinks companies started ramping up direct-to-consumer sales. Some tried this a few years ago but the timing wasn’t right. Now, with the increased presence of social media, it’s really easy to reach more people and point them in the direction of your brands. This means retailers will be looking for products that are increasingly off the beaten track.

How has your day-to-day work been impacted by the pandemic?

I was newly freelance when the pandemic hit, so I didn’t qualify for any government grants. I lost work overnight and it was pretty scary for a week or two but things gradually started coming back, as companies realised that they must find new ways to carry on. Now I’m back in full-time employment, I enjoy the flexibility of home and office as it has become more common not to go to the office every day. I also spent a lot of time doing Zoom meetings and tastings – some companies still do briefings via Zoom and it can be really convenient. I’m glad to be back out and about, too, though.

What media have you been seeking out yourself throughout the pandemic?

First it was the 5pm briefings but it quickly became easier to read or watch news summaries – Channel 4, The Guardian, the BBC. I also really enjoyed keeping an eye on more insightful pieces from the likes of Wired or The New York Times about how the pandemic was/is shaping future trends. Scrolling through reddit is a great way to get some different perspectives on what’s going on, as well as accounts from all over the world.

The journalism industry can be challenging. What advice do you have for any recent graduates who are looking to break into the industry?

Trade journalism is worth considering. Teams are usually small so you get to do the full range of features and news pretty quickly. You can use trade magazines to take steps towards bigger publications, if that’s what you want. You can also use them to make yourself an expert in a particular field.

I don’t know what it’s like now, but unpaid internships were pretty common when I was graduating. I could not afford to do these, but I don’t feel like I’ve missed out by going down the trade route.  

What types of contributions do you find useful from PRs?

Information and ideas that show they know the magazine or website, exclusive thought leadership pieces that aren’t thinly-veiled advertorials, decent images. Most of the PRs in the drinks industry are great – and they enjoy working in the drinks trade, too. 

Can you tell us about a few of the highlights you’re most proud of so far in your career?

Helping to uncover a loans scam, being part of the team to launch World’s 50 Best Bars, launching my own future insights series at Just Drinks, being recognised by the Scotch whisky industry to be a Keeper of the Quaich, achieving my Wine & Spirits diploma, and now my first editorship at Drinks Retailing.

Lastly, your job has allowed you to travel across the world. Which experiences have been stand-outs and why?

So many incredible experiences: dancing in the Trinidad carnival, riding the Hershey train through sugarcane fields in Cuba, shopping for groceries in Moscow, clubbing in Shenzhen, taking a hot air balloon over agave fields in Mexico, exploring ancient burial caves in Kyiv, sailing over the sea to Skye… Not to mention all of the incredible drinks I’ve tried over the years. What a ride.

Lucy Britner can be found tweeting @Britner.

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