Brian Stormont drank craft beer for the first time during lockdown. He discovered how breweries changed their business models which will now benefit them in the long run.
While we have all been stuck at home for long periods during the last 13 months due to the coronavirus outbreak, many people will have tried a number of things they maybe hadn’t in the past.
One of those things for me is craft beer.
I think in my previous 30 years of legally being permitted to drink alcohol, I had tried one can of craft beer and maybe some ales out of curiosity at a beer festival.
I was always more of a lager man, that was my “go-to” drink and I never really wavered from it.
However, in the last year I have been introduced to the world of craft beer and I can definitely see what all the fuss is about.
There are so many varieties and brewers out there making beer of varying strengths for all palates.
Appetite for beer
And figures seem to suggest that I am not the only person who has made this discovery during the pandemic.
The country’s burgeoning appetite for craft beer is borne out by the news that the number of breweries in the UK grew by 216 in 2020, up 7.5% from 2019, according to new research.
According to data from national accountancy group UHY Hacker Young, there are now 3,018 breweries in the UK.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on hospitality sector, the number of new breweries has continued to increase. The closure of pubs and the coronavirus lockdown may even have acted as a catalyst for some entrepreneurs to start new brewing businesses.
A total of 55 new brewery companies were incorporated between March 16 and June 1 last year, according to UHY Hacker Young.
The group said that the slump in sales through pubs and bars forced many breweries to find new routes to market with e-commerce sales direct to consumers vital to keeping many independent UK brewers trading.
According to the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) in April 2020, 30% of independent breweries still did not offer direct-to-consumer delivery or takeaway services.
James Simmonds, partner at UHY Hacker Young, explained: “Growth in breweries during a very difficult period for the drinks industry is a positive sign. Entrepreneurs clearly feel confident in the prospects for a bounce back once pubs and bars can open again.
“People’s appetite for trying new beers from different breweries has contributed to the long-term rise in new breweries being set up. The sector hasn’t fallen into the trap of discounting.
“With the closure of pubs and bars, smaller breweries have had to adapt to direct-to-consumer models. As hospitality begins to reopen, these new breweries will need to build on the momentum they have created through their direct-to-consumer sales.”
Victoria Scott-Lewis, sales and marketing manager at Dundee’s 71 Brewing, said a fantastic 2019 for the company continued into the early months of 2020.
But then the pandemic hit and their business model changed overnight.
“The year 2019 was a huge year for 71. We got into a lot of export business to different countries so, really, at the start of January, February, March 2020 things were really big for us in export markets – we were out in nine different markets. We thought ‘yes this is going to be it’ – Covid-19 hit and all of the bars shut,” she said.
“That was a real blow in a market that we thought was going to be expanding, then closer to home the whole domestic market went out as well. We have really great connections with the trade so that was huge for us.”
However, the brewery moved quickly to bring in new ways of working and utilised areas of their Bellfield Street HQ for different purposes.
“The biggest change for us was moving to online. That happened really quickly. Our Tap Room was always really busy so we had to find a way to divert that revenue stream,” said Victoria.
It really helped strengthen our relationships with trade – bottle shops as well have been a real lifeline to breweries throughout this time and, thank goodness, they were classed as essential shops.”
Victoria Scott-Lewis, sales and marketing director, 71 Brewing
“Quickly we built a website and we built an online shop. We also got a local app for delivery for same-day delivery, which is really popular, so we built a really great customer base in Dundee and throughout Scotland.
“It really helped strengthen our relationships with trade – bottle shops as well have been a real lifeline to breweries throughout this time and, thank goodness, they were classed as essential shops.”
Trying new things
Prior to lockdown, beer festivals and events gave breweries an opportunity to showcase their products and a chance to gauge the public’s reaction to experimental lines.
Victoria added that, although that was gone, people like myself who had never really drunk craft beer before, were happy to move out of their comfort zone and try new things.
She continued: “Beer festivals were so great for breweries to be experimental, get out there with their beers and reach a whole new audience.
“What has happened during lockdown has seen supermarkets getting more adventurous as well with what they are bringing in, but definitely more so in people experimenting and wanting to support local and support local breweries as well.
“We are seeing that through craft bottle shops as well. They are wanting to stock products from breweries that are local to them. We have seen a great surge in customers to our online shop as well, so it’s great that people are moving away from macro down to that local level.
“It will definitely continue and with businesses starting to open up we are trying to make those connections again with trade and all of our local bars and businesses and, thankfully, lots are starting to get in touch and keep us on tap.”
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And 71 Brewing fans can expect to see some new beers on the market in the very near future.
“We have got a pilot kit which allows us to experiment with new beers and we have a new range which will add to our existing line-up which is coming out in the next month,” revealed Victoria.
“We are keeping our 71 Lager, our Mandarina Sky and Cloud Fall and we are adding two new beers, Throwing Shapes and Rollin’ Coaster.
“This time has given us some experimental time to mess around with recipes, tweak them and get them right.
“We have also come out with Fruition Seasonal Sours which we launched at the start of this year which are really fruit forward hazy sours, perfect for going into the summer.
“It was always in our plan to keep to that timeline and it has worked really well. Breweries have felt the need to experiment but it is still New England IPAs that are the beers that people are looking for.”
And feedback for the products, which is always something that 71 Brewing takes on board, has resulted in the firm moving to introducing 440ml cans with demand for a larger serving size apparent.
“We did a podcast at the weekend and we got some really great feedback there, especially on the seasonal sours.
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“The community we have been building around Dundee has been getting bigger. People have just been really receptive. Feedback helps you progress as a brewery and makes you think about what direction you want to go in.
“One thing we based on feedback was moving from 330ml cans to 440ml, so our whole new range will be going into that and that is purely down to people asking for a bigger serving size.”
As the country takes bigger steps out of lockdown, previous relationships are now being revisited and new ones are being continued.
Victoria said: “We are going to start doing our click and collect again, and we will continue with our local delivery service and we have built some great relationships with our trade over this year and they will start to get a lot of our exclusive beers.
“We are also looking at new distribution channels throughout Scotland, new wholesalers and we have got a couple of new lines as I said.”
And what does Victoria enjoy drinking when she fancies a beer?
“My favourite style of beer from 71 at the minute is we have just made a black IPA called Life in Motion,” she said.
“A black IPA is a style that if you’re not familiar with is a contradiction, it’s a really hoppy, vibrant beer but it is very dark in colour because we use a black malt in it so you look at this beer and you might be expecting a stout but it is fruity and hoppy.
“That is my favourite beer at the minute. Aside from that I like to drink West Coast IPAs, Nobody Like You and Rollin’ Coaster.”
After a rollercoaster 12 months of uncertainty and change, what does the future hold for the craft beer industry?
“I can’t see it going anywhere,” said Victoria.
“Breweries are starting to get really adventurous, we are starting to go back to the way things were years ago where every city had its own local brewery and we can see that trend coming from the US where craft beer is huge.
“We are still a couple of years behind but we are definitely getting there. Peoples palates are changing and they are looking for new exciting flavours.”
Flavourly craft beer subscription
Flavourly, which specialises in the delivery of cases of craft beer, has seen an exponential rise in their sales over the last year.
Assean Sheikh, co-founder and CMO Flavourly, which distributes craft beers all over the country and recently appointed its first hopprentice to trial what it sells, said: “Last year, while an incredibly difficult year on so many levels, was actually a bumper year for Flavourly as the trend for purchasing premium craft beer online for home consumption was accelerated by a number of years.
“As demand for our service skyrocketed, we were able to help partner brewers left with surplus capacity, by diverting this from closed hospitality venues to home deliveries, helping sales treble in 2020 rising to over £10 million.
“As lockdown restrictions begin to lift we certainly aren’t seeing any slowdown in demand but what we are seeing is an increase in demand for new and less discovered options.
“I believe this is what is continuing to drive the emergence of small craft breweries and the rise in gypsy brewing.”
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