03 July 2020

Breweries rally ahead of pubs reopening as uncertainty continues

03 July 2020

Uncertainty continues to weigh on UK breweries, despite the imminent reopening of pubs – with many sites still set to keep their doors closed in the short-term.

Independent breweries have told the PA news agency that they have rallied to generate new revenue streams as many pub customers are not yet taking orders despite being given the green light to open their doors on July 4.

It comes after warnings from the sector that brewers are under severe pressure after being given less than two weeks to prepare to supply pubs as the reopening date was finally confirmed.

Walthamstow-based Signature Brew is due to trade from its three pub and taproom sites from Saturday, but said that only “around 50%” of the pubs it typically supplies to are planning to reopen.

Signature Brew said around half of pub customers are reopening in the coming days (Signature/PA)

Founder Tom Bott told PA: “Everything’s been quite hard to predict over the past few weeks.

“We’re not supplying our usual number of pub customers because some are being cautious to see what happens at the weekend, some are bigger groups that are taking more time to prepare and some are city centre pubs that will struggle with current restrictions.

“I think the reopening of pubs could have been handled better. We see this issue through the lenses of our own sites and as a supplier, and there has been a huge amount to contend with in a short period of time.”

However, Mr Bott said that the company looked to new avenues to boost revenues after pubs shut their doors in March, such as their launch of a new ‘pub in a box’ gift selection of beers.

“You can’t just sit on your hands so we looked to innovate and had some real success with the pub in a box,” he said.

“We’ve been in a fortunate position as we’ve been quite flexible but the sector will continue to need support further down the line if restrictions continue.”

West Berkshire Brewery managing director Tom Lucas also said that some pub customers will not reopen at the weekend but said he has “very little sympathy” for rivals who have “put all their hopes on July 4”.

Tom Lucas, managing director of West Berkshire Brewery (WBB/PA)

He told PA: “It’s all happened very quickly but the only advantage that small brewers have is that they can manoeuvre and make decisions quickly.

“Some of our normal pub customers have said they won’t reopen and we can’t open our Oxford pub straight away but we recognised that and have had to adapt.

“We recognised the need to pivot early on so have rapidly grown our packaging and on-trade (shops and retail) business.”

Mr Lucas said it has reaped the benefits of growing parts of its business away from supplying traditional pubs, with it reporting “almost £1 million” in sales from the first quarter despite the lockdown.

Last week, the chief of the Society for Independent Brewers (SIBA) said that breweries had been “badly let down by the Government” over the time it took for guidance to be announced.

James Calder tweeted that “we were promised three weeks notice and not had it” and stressed that there was “still a heck of a lot of beer to destroy” amid uncertainty over demand for beer.

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