Covid-19 and the Past, Present and Future of Fallen Brewing
When the announcement to close the on-trade on 23rd March was made, I, like almost everyone else in the on-trade supply chain, spent the next few minutes, hours and days with my head in my hands. January and February had been ‘negotiated’ and we were looking forward to the promise of (maybe) some warmer weather and an increase in supply to our favourite watering holes across the country. In one fell swoop, the rug was pulled out from under the feet of thousands of businesses up and down the UK. On the 23rd March we lost half of our trade. The full lockdown with Government advice to ‘Stay Home’ was subsequently put in place and ‘non-essential’ shops (initially including independent beer shops) were forced to close. We had a fairly chunky stock of packaged cans, kegs and casks and a few thousand litres of beer in tanks waiting to be packaged but our entire market had all but disappeared. We genuinely thought that we were going to have to shut the brewery for the foreseeable future.
Online sales had been a tiny fraction of our output prior to the Covid-19 crisis but it became obvious very quickly that it could be our lifeline. In an attempt to salvage something out of the potential carnage, we decided to offer free delivery on all online orders. Thanks to you all, it was an initiative that worked. Online sales went through the roof, going from close to zero to becoming almost our entire source of income.
This quickly created a new dilemma. The initiative was so successful, and the desire from you all to support small local businesses was so strong (and will never be forgotten or under-appreciated) that we realised we were going to run out of packaged can stock and tank beer. Contrary to my initial belief, we were going to have to continue to brew and package our beers to service our newfound online customers.
This is where the current situation gets extremely complicated, not just for us, but for businesses across numerous sectors. How do you balance production needs, staff safety and, frankly, the probability of output and revenue being sufficient to justify continued employment of staff versus furlough? I’ve wrestled with this on a daily basis since the crisis began and will continue to do so as Government advice changes and we hopefully get some sense of when our Pre-Covid markets might return. For now, we’re brewing and packaging once a week with two staff members. Anyone who has been to the brewery will realise that we work in fairly small spaces and I feel this is the maximum number of staff we can have on-site whilst maintaining effective social distancing. Unfortunately, this means that we’ve had to turn away a number of chunky orders that, under normal circumstances, we would have no problem fulfilling. However, when considered against staff-safety and the general ‘Stay at Home’ message, I’m confident that it’s the right thing to do.
At the time of writing we’re managing to maintain a good, and fairly diverse, range of beer in cans. All of the core beers are available (Local Motive, Odyssey, Grapevine, Chew Chew and Platform C) and the increasingly popular Stirliner Weisse will be back shortly. We might even be able to brew some new beers or revisit some old favourites for the online store so keep an eye out. We know lots of you have been missing a good pint of draft beer so we’ve invested in a mini-keg filler. We’ll be trialling it with a view to launching mini-kegs in the next couple of weeks. We’ve got no plans to supply bag-in-box or mini-cask formats at this point but if there is a desire for smaller volumes of carbonated beers (e.g. 1L growlers) then that’s also something we could look at.
As we look to the future, with as much clarity as a scuba diver with a fogged-up mask in zero-visibility, we’re thinking about our overall business model, how much online sales will continue to be a significant part of what we do, and what products (and merchandise?) you guys would like to see available. It’s been really lovely working directly with you, the people who are enjoying the beers, and I seriously hope it continues when we start adjusting to the ‘new-normal’.
As I mentioned earlier, when the lockdown started, we decided to offer free delivery on all orders. However, if online orders are to continue to form a significant part of what we do I’m afraid we now need to introduce a minimum spend to qualify for free delivery and also revise some of the pricing. These changes will allow us to make a small profit and also align our pricing more closely with the independent retailers we supply. These guys and girls have supported us from day one and we need to support them as well.
From today, we’re introducing a minimum spend of £30 to qualify for free delivery. Any orders below £30 will have a £6.50 delivery charge applied.
I would love to maintain our pricing and free delivery initiatives but I’m afraid they wouldn’t be sustainable in the longer term and, as we’re hopefully approaching the end of the current stringent lockdown, we need to start planning and shaping the business for the future. We very much hope that online sales are a significant part of our future and hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel is a bright one. Did I mention ‘hope’ a few times?
Thanks for reading, stay safe and we’ll see you all soon.
Paul and the Fallen Brewing Team.