Ross Carter has worked in many different areas of the industry over the years but most recently is becoming known for his work at The Drinks Trust (the drinks charity formerly called The Benevolent) as CEO. In this Meet the Friend interview, Amanda Barnes finds out how the parameters shifted for the charity during the pandemic and learns about its key campaigns for 2022. She also discovers how Ross started in the wine world with watered-down Tempranillo and why having Oloroso on the menu is a prerequisite for a good night out.
Tell me about how you first got into wine or your first experiences of wine.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in Spain and France, and rightly or wrongly, as a child, my parents used to put a little wine in water for me at dinner! This didn’t last long, as cheap Tempranillo and 1980’s tap water was a foul concoction. They were lucky it didn’t put me off forever.
Years later, when the water was removed, and I’d left university, I grew to find that I was developing a taste for wine and a thirst for more knowledge about it. That and the languages, plus a WSET Diploma under my belt took me into the industry.
You’ve worked in many different aspects of the drinks trade over the years. How did you come to get involved with The Drinks Trust and how have you seen it grow or change over the years?
Yes, it’s been a varied career from events to supplier management, winery work and quality assurance. I did two stints at the London Wine Fair (LWF), the first of which was when it was at ExCeL, then I went back a few years later as event director and was asked to reinvent it, which ended up with the event at Olympia and I hope, a broader audience and more festival atmosphere.
I’d never worked for a charity before I joined what was The Benevolent, but it was the work I’d done on the LWF that resulted in the call from the trustees. They were keen to reposition The Benevolent and update the services and brand, and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity.
It was two years ago almost to the day when we relaunched as The Drinks Trust and made a raft of promises on what we planned for the future, both in wellbeing space and vocational, then ten days later we had the first lockdown, and our priorities shifted quickly.
We spent the next year fundraising for and delivering COVID grants, and went from supporting 1,000 people in 2019, to nearly 5,000 in 2020 and then nearly 4,000 in 2021. That was achieved through the significant support we received from the businesses and people in the industry. We were contacted by brands across all product categories, as well as distributors and operators and individuals, without their support we couldn’t have achieved what we did.
It has been a turbulent couple of years for the drinks industry with the impact of the pandemic. What do you think are a couple of the key challenges the industry faces today?
Interestingly, the two areas that we proposed we move into at the relaunch in March 2020 are now possibly the two areas where we, as an industry, face the most significant challenges, namely wellbeing and skills.
So, when we were able to deliver on our wellbeing services last year, which we call Restore (24-hour helpline, free counselling, sleep and insomnia treatment and mindful drinking), the timing was fortuitous. Since the launch, the demand for these services has increased rapidly. The pandemic and the impact it has had on wellbeing has been profound. And perhaps a more open conversation about this has further led to more people wanting to address the challenges they face in life. All of these services are free to our industry, irrespective of your financial circumstances.
In November last year we were finally able to launch Develop, our vocational hardship initiative. Following Brexit and the pandemic, as an industry we find ourselves facing a severe lack of staff and skills. Our ambition is to lift people out of hardship indefinitely and give them the opportunity to thrive in our industry. So, we now offer a means-tested service where people can receive courses across wine, beer, mixology, front of house skills, cellar management, vineyard skills and much more besides. From the point of production to the point of sale, we can make a meaningful impact on people’s lives and careers.
Can you share some insight into the key campaigns and focal points for The Drinks Trust in 2022?
Tricky, as some of it hasn’t been announced yet… But Develop and Equal Measures will be significant campaigns for us this year. And we will be announcing a dedicated campaign in the coming months, one that supports people through our grant-giving service; Assist. The cost of living is now increasing at a rate that will leave many of the lower-paid staff in our industry in challenging circumstances. Fuel poverty is a real threat to many of these people, some of whom have prepaid meters in their homes, and the energy cost on these systems is often significantly higher than it is for those of us on annual tariffs.
This means many staff working in bars, pubs and in retail return to cold homes, and many of these people have young families. Next winter it’s likely to be even worse, so we need to come together as an industry to address the issue and play an active role in supporting our colleagues through these challenging circumstances. More on this to come.
How can Members get more involved with the Drinks Trust?
There are lots of ways to get more involved, both as a business or as an individual. You can find more details on our website, but these include, becoming an official partner, activating brands through cause-based initiatives with us, fundraising as a business or an individual, payroll giving, join us at our events (The Golden Pineapples on June 9th), become a Restore Wellbeing Champion, support the Assist, Restore, Develop and Equal Measures initiatives, activate The Drinks Trust through your distribution channels with activities such as our helpline number on the packaging and in all your comms, and much more besides.
The money makes a huge difference, but helping us carry our message to your staff, colleagues, clients and their staff, in turn, is just as important. So, if you can only afford to support with a small sum, but you have a big audience, your help is just as valuable.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do to unwind? And what would be in your glass?
I’m enjoying spending time with friends again, getting out to hear live music, and going to my favourite restaurants, all of which serve Amontillado and Oloroso, a personal prerequisite.