Making the case for listing sustainable wines & spirits challenger brands in TR

By Faye Bartle |


HYKE Gin is distilled with a sustainably sourced grape spirit.

Sustainaholics is powering ahead with its vision to champion sustainability and ethical consumerism in the travel industry with its fast-growing portfolio of independent and sustainable wines and spirits brands. Company Founder David Mills tell us more…

The company sees a “clear need” for sustainability-driven initiatives in travel retail, which is providing all the motivation it needs to develop its expanding roster of sustainable wines and spirits brands in the channel.

“Customers want authentic sustainable brands. Sustainable brands want market exposure and growth. And the travel industry needs sustainability-based partnerships,” said Sustainaholics Founder David Mills.

“I formed Sustainaholics to bring these interests together, with the vision to make the discovery of such brands an essential part of the travel experience.”

Established in 2021, the company may be young but it’s already gaining traction in the duty free and travel retail (DF&TR) industry. In January, it secured a listing with Tourvest Retail Services for five of its sustainable spirits brands to be pre-purchased at High Life Shop.

READ MORE: Sustainaholics wins High Life Shop listing for sustainable spirits range

Two Drifters.

Two Drifters is a carbon negative rum made in Devon, UK. It is a certified B Corp.

To date, its portfolio includes Two Drifters (a carbon negative rum), Oxford Artisan Distillery (heritage grain English rye whisky), Cooper King (carbon negative gin), Hyke (surplus grape gin), Black Cow (pure milk vodka), Avallen (calvados), and Penrhos (a handcrafted gin made from waste fruit), as well as the recently added wine brands Simpsons Wine Estate and When in Rome.

READ MORE: Sustainaholics adds two sustainable wine brands to GTR portfolio

READ MORE: Sustainaholics welcomes two new brands to sustainable spirits collection

“We’re passionate about what the brands are trying to achieve, so we offer a unique partnership with brands to secure financially viable listings without creating costs, risks or cashflow issues that hinder their ability to grow and succeed,” said Mills.

“The biggest challenge is to persuade retailers to list sustainable challenger brands and recognise the long-term value that sustainability-based partnerships bring them. It’s then up to customers to buy the products and prove that sustainability is fundamental to purchasing decisions.”

Black Cow Vodka

Black Cow is a ‘pure milk vodka’ made in West Dorset, UK, using what is left over from grass grazed cows’ milk after making cheese. 

Building an exclusive launch portfolio has required plenty of research, meetings, time, and persistence. The hard work is paying off.

“We’re now well established we get many referrals and brands contacting us directly,” said Mills.

In the short term, Sustainaholics is expecting more listings for 2023 and is aiming to introduce dedicated, stand-alone points of sale (POS) and/or attention-grabbing and clearly signposted on-board ranges.

“Travelling is about opening your mind to new ideas and experiences so in the long term I’d like the discovery of new sustainable brands to be an integral part of every journey in the UK and beyond, so customers expect and look forward to discovering new products when they travel,” said Mills.


The Simpsons’ Wine Estate range of English still and sparkling wines from Kent are fully accredited with the ‘Sustainable Wines of Great Britain’ scheme.

The feedback so far has been positive, but claiming space is a work in progress, in Mills’ opinion: “In the UK, travel retail for spirits is falling behind the rest of the off- and on-trade where listings are being secured not on % margin and lowest cost but on cash margin, quality, provenance and sustainability.”

He is quick to stress that customers “buy the stories behind the products as much as the products themselves, generating value for the retailer”.

“If listings continue to be based on short-term metrics like % margin and listing fees then the established brands with the deepest pockets, but without the sustainability credentials, will always win and continue dominating the travel retail landscape,” he argued.

2023 Global Industry Survey

Source: 2023 Global Industry Survey.

“Sustainable brands will cost more. If not, consumers may question the authenticity of their claims. If sustainability is as important as companies say it is, then it needs to be a fundamental range selection criteria and form part of strategic balanced decision metrics.”

Notably, 65.7% of duty free and travel retail stakeholders who responded to TRBusiness’ 2023 Global Industry Survey agree that consumers are more likely to pay more for products that are sustainable (see chart above).

READ MORE: View the 2023 Global Industry Survey

“Retailers need to apply balanced long-term metrics with cash margin, category growth and sustainability at their core,” suggested Mills. “This will enable strategic listing decisions to be made that strengthen retailers’ own brand equity, drive category growth, convert customer interest at higher retail prices, increasing retailers’ profits and relevance to future generations.”

As for what the future holds, more listings, launching new categories, and debuting some travel-industry first product innovations are all in the pipeline.

“We will positively engage with anyone who wants to partner with us to bring sustainability to the forefront of a hugely influential industry that can drive positive change by showing real leadership,” said Mills.

“Travel retailers have customers wanting sustainability. Sustainaholics has brands offering it. So, let’s get on with it.”


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