Company Profile: Inverarity Morton – focused on the future


Inverarity Morton is Scotland’s leading independent wine and spirits wholesaler. The business which started out as William Morton, was founded in 1945 and bought by industry veteran Sandy Bulloch in 1959 – at the time he was best known for establishing the Glen Catrine bonded warehouse and selling whisky.

Fifteen years later Sandy sold the business to another drinks industry veteran Ricky Agnew before buying it back in 1976 and merging it with three of his other businesses: A Bulloch agencies, Classic Wines and John Grant Blenders.

Current boss Stephen Russell joined Sandy in 1975, as an assistant accountant, and moved up through the company becoming joint managing director in 1999 and sole boss in 2005. Today Stephen is one of the most experienced men in the Scottish drinks industry with more than 45 years service under his belt, and he owns 25% of the business. His former boss, Sandy, died in 2019, well into his 90’s, but his shares rest in a family trust – which means the company remains wholly independent.

This independence also applies to the type of business it seeks to supply. Over the years it has build up a customer base of like-minded independently owned customers such as Di Maggio’s Restaurant Group, Montpeliers, Buzzworks and Caledonian Heritable.

After Stephen Russell became MD he embarked on a journey to move the business into more premium product categories focusing on wines and spirits and in 2011 the company bought Inverarity Vaults, rebranded in 2012 as Inverarity Morton, and the following year acquired Forth Wines.

Today the company resides in Thornliebank on Glasgow’s southside, having moved there in 2015, the business now has warehousing, distribution and offices all on one site and a management team which boasts more than 100 years of on-trade experience amongst them.

Commercial Director Ian Cumming, has more than 38 years experience in the licensed trade having started out in wholesale working for the likes of Castle and Wallaces Express, Waverley, Tennents and Forth Wines. He is now responsible for everything supplier related– which includes procurement. While Sales and Marketing Director Steve Annand, has now been with Inverarity Morton for five years. He started in his career in the industry on the other side of the bar in his local pub in Aberdeenshire before joining Anheuser-busch in 2002. Over the years he has worked across various sales roles before becoming Commercial Managing Director of Tennents and then Head of On trade for Magners GB. Barrie Johnstone is the Warehouse & Distribution Director and the newest addition to the management team is Financial Director, Stephen Gaw, who joined in 2020.

Talking of the last two years – Inverarity Morton has come out of the pandemic focused on profitable growth.

Steve Annand comments, “We were modernising pre-Covid, but given all the challenges in the supply chain, we have a renewed focus on driving efficiencies in order to improve customer service. We have always been a company that prides ourselves on customer relationships, that has always been part of our DNA since the outset and we want to become even more efficient to in order to continue to give customers a great experience.

“We have implemented voice-activated picking, as part of a significant investment in a new back office system – although rolling this out during a pandemic was not easy. We are also investing in new electric fork lifts and ride-ons in the warehouse – this might not sound very exciting but it has allowed us to drastically improve the speed and accuracy of our order picking.”

It’s not just technology onsite that the business is invested in – eight new trucks are on order – which will ensure they can deliver into the low emission zones across Scotland’s major cities when they come into effect. Six smaller vehicles have already arrived. The move is part of the company’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint. Says Steve, “We need to be aware of our impact on the environment. Our customers expect us to be able to demonstrate our green credentials and we continue to look at ways to reduce our impact on the environment and our emissions.”

The last two years have been a steep learning curve for everyone and for Inverarity Morton it too has been a challenge.

Steve explains, “The whole supply chain was creaking post pandemic and it was extremely challenging for everyone. We worked really hard with suppliers and producers – but there was so much outwith our control. We had to adapt quickly to ensure we could offer alternatives for products that were simply not available. The depth of our portfolio (over 4000 SKU’s) meant we faired better than most of the competitive set.”

It certainly has a great range of products and there has been a conscious decision to rationalise the number of SKU’s post pandemic and concentrate on the premium end of the market.

In recent years Inverarity Morton made a conscious decision to move more into premium spirits particularly malt whisky. By doing so it responded to the general trend of premiumisation in the on-trade.

Steve adds, “We had a fantastic wine range and now we have extended that to include more premium spirits too, particularly from Scottish producers. That is what our customers are looking for. And it is one of the reasons why we have the customers that we do – 90% of our customers are independent On trade operators and they come to us for the range of products we stock.”

He continues, “One of the other benefits of being independent is we can be the trusted advisor when it comes to range recommendations. Brand owners will always be skewed towards their own brands, and rightly so, but our dedicated team of account managers can give a fully independent view of every category – wine, spirits or beer, that best fits with the sales potential of the outlet. ”

To further extend this service Inverarity Morton have been working with Wm Grant & Sons to develop a new whisky category app. Says Steve, “We can now offer a range review across the whisky category and demonstrate to customers where their gaps are and the opportunity to grow sales.

“We are also evolving our trade brochures to reflect the fact that we are a trusted advisor across all categories. Things have moved on from simply offering free stock. Along with our partner suppliers we can see the growth trends so by offering category management we can helping customers get the right range which in turn will help them drive sales.”

The recent Explore.Taste.Love wine tasting event in Edinburgh is a prime example of Inverarity Morton offering customers the opportunity to find out more about the right range of wines to stock. It is the largest trade tasting in Scotland and they are also reviewing plans to bring back its successful Evolution event.

There may be challenges ahead not least the Deposit Return Scheme, but Steve is confident that the future holds opportunities for the industry and the company.

“Inverarity Morton have the expertise, the depth of portfolio, and we pride ourselves on our customer relationships. We know we are not the biggest player in the market, but we truly believe we are the go to wholesaler for wines and spirits market in the Scottish on-trade. We have shown that we can adapt to the issues facing the industry, and that’s what the business has done over the last 80 years. The challenges of the last few years have only seen us strengthen our relationship with suppliers and customers. Looking to the future the trade has shown how resilient it is and that it can grow, and we look forward to growing with them.”

Category: Features
Tags: Cumming, Inverarity Morton, Stephen Russell, Steve Annand