Agriculture and Food
Brewery leads the way through the pandemic – as it 'moves boldly forward into uncertainty’
If you need evidence of the impact of lockdown on business look at Stroud Brewery – which lost 70 per cent of its trade overnight. And if ever you needed evidence some businesses will just not be beaten – look at Stroud Brewery.
Years believing if it invested in its supply chain, stuck to its organic principles, valued and built a community of customers growth might be slower, but it would build something more robust, look to be paying dividends for founder, Greg Pilley.
There is no known model for making any business so firmly wedded to the hospitality trade immune from the coronavirus, however, and there is no doubt the broadside was massive – but not catastrophic.
“Certainly, we lost 70 per cent of our trade overnight as pubs were closed down,” said Mr Pilley, who started the brewery in 2006.
What then began to happen was magical, and immediate. And has just been crowned by announcement of a headline grabbing partnership which sees River Cottage – that TV-famous brand belonging to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – launching a Stroud Brewery beer.
The magic bit was this – no doubt helped with all the investments previously noted, and a solid web-presence and that willingness to adapt.
“People sought out our beers by other means,” said Mr Pilley, referring to when the pubs – and the brewery’s own bar – closed.
“Our web sales grew ten-fold, and we made home deliveries using local van drivers and national courier services. Retail sales grew also with many independent shops (community/village/pop-up) selling more and helping to thin out the queues across the country.
“Of particular note was the MidcountiesCo-op who turned to local suppliers to meet the spikes in demand.
“Over the course of the pandemic, and the lock-down period, we have been extremely grateful and encouraged by our ongoing trade, which has been underpinned by our loyal customers.
“Many of these are our local followers who have seen us grow over the years, however a good number are national customers who have discovered us and want great tasting organic beers.”
Nevertheless, it still faced that fear all have had - that when it did open its bar doors again would those customers come back.
"We opened our bar door cautiously,” said Mr Pilley. That day being July 4.
“We have had a good summer. Previously 20 per cent of our own beer production was sold through the bar, this is much reduced, however with a change in practice, moving to table service, we have seen our kitchen evolve an enticing menu, and we see that the majority of our visitors will now have something to eat.
“This has undoubtedly been boosted by the Eat-Out to Help Out scheme, which gave incentive to encourage people out of their houses.”
The River Cottage partnership has had good publicity and the brewery hopesit will put more wind it its sales.
New business partner, Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, said: “Collaborating with Stroud Brewery was a natural fit, not just because of their remarkable beer-making capabilities but also because their commitment to farming and brewing in a sustainable way, helping to protect and reviving a bio-diverse landscape, align so closely with our own.”
The River Cottage range is made up of two pale ales: The Stinger, a golden ale infused with locally foraged wild nettles for a fresh, zesty twist; and the Rye PA, a full-bodied, modern take on the classic amber ale, using malted Rye sourced in the West Country and exclusively British-grown hop varieties.
Flavours are, as you might expect, are aided by some foraged ingredients.
“Hugh came to us with the concept for Stinger already formed, and with its lovely zesty notes it worked really well,” said Mr Pilley.
“We wanted to do something a little different with a big aroma for the second beer, and when Hugh tasted another of our rye-based beers he was charmed.
“We tweaked it with some unusual hop varieties and the result was RYE PA - our unique interpretation of a classic amber ale.”
The launch of this collaboration coincides with Organic September, a month-long campaign which aims to encourage people to make small changes to their purchasing habits by generating awareness of how organic products and brands support farming practices which amongst other things, protect wildlife and the environment.
The brewery is offering five per cent off the wholesale price with the intention of achieving 10 per cent off RRP in store.
With the pandemic stretching on indefinitely, where now?
“For the future, we move boldly forward into uncertainty, bolstered by the resilience our committed customers offer us and remaining nimble in the marketplace, taking all the opportunities presented to us. And there are opportunities.
“As consumers there is little doubt of the impact our lives are having on the health of the planet.
“There is a rise in conscious consumerism, and in reaction to political disempowerment we see increasing purchasing democracy, people spending money on businesses that do good and are part of their vision for the world they want to see.
“As an organic and B Corps certified brewery we are committed to our part of rapidly needed change and positive vision for a greener future.”