In what is undoubtedly an extraordinarily challenging time for the beer industry as a whole, Thornbridge Brewery has moved fast to shape and diversify its business to face the challenges presented by Covid-19.

Following the announcement on 20th March that all pubs, bars, cafés and restaurant businesses were to close, Thornbridge stood to lose 60% of its revenue overnight. The previous week had also had a huge impact on revenue, as people were told to stay away from the on-trade sector, yet no closure notices were issued.

Thornbridge began to implement a range of measures in order to face these challenges. In order to protect its staff and to reduce customer contact, on Wednesday, 18th March, all Thornbridge pubs were repurposed as local bottle shops, selling take-out beer at brewery taproom prices.

The pubs implemented call and collect options, with a drive-thru beer collection available at their venues with car parks. Staff also distributed leaflets to their local areas, offering a local delivery service to those self-isolating, and checked on local elderly regulars. The commitment, dedication, and efforts of all staff, as well as the support of loyal customers at such an uncertain time for all, has not gone unnoticed, the brewer says.

Not content to focus solely on its own business, Thornbridge also took the opportunity to help those a little more in need and launched a Spread a Little Sunshine campaign. Thornbridge designated its taproom and pubs as drop-off points for local foodbanks, exchanging a can of its California Sun beer for two or more items donated. In just a matter of days, more than 400 items of food were donated, helping the foodbanks at a time of great uncertainty. The kindness and generosity of Thornbridge customers was shown in the face of adversity.

Bucking the trend

Following the closure notice, Thornbridge has also focused its efforts on its online shop and packaged products, while ensuring staff health and safety. With research by SIBA showing that beer sales at independent breweries had dropped by 82%, Thornbridge is bucking that trend. Online sales are up more than 2,500% following a direct focus to attract new and existing customers, and diversifying its beer options to fit with the ‘at home’ drinking market.

At this point, Thornbridge reflects upon the people who make up its team and the roles in which they all have played in supporting their business in such unprecedented times. Thornbridge is clear that everyone within the business has taken it upon themselves to not only accept, but embrace the necessary, and for many, difficult changes. Many staff have changed the ways in which they work, where and how they carry out their jobs, and who they work with, as well as, for some, accepting with grace and dignity, furlough, to help reduce costs so they can come back with strength and spirit.

Beers destined for cask, such as Brother Rabbit, Lord Marples, and a collaboration with Salopian, Myddle, have instead been produced as bottle conditioned beers. New beers destined mainly for keg have again been diverted to packaged product and have been snapped up as quickly as they are brewed. An entire batch of Pondera, the latest Thornbridge collaboration with Firestone Walker, sold out in under two weeks, with new products such as North Bridge and The River Knows looking as though they will follow a similar path.

Without its online business and retail supply chains, Thornbridge recognised things would be so much harder. The company is beyond grateful for the unwavering support of its retail contacts for keeping supply chains open, as well as the individual consumers, old and new, and their commitment to buying online, even with initial teething problems as the online business was scaled up dramatically.

While Thornbridge is bucking the trend, it can see that the industry as a whole may not be in the same position. It is working alongside JKS restaurants to donate a percentage of profits from their collaboration beer, 4th Rifles, to Hospitality Action. It has also run a number of events at its virtual pub, The Jaipur Arms, and has asked people partaking in its virtual quiz to donate what would be their quiz entry fee to the hospitality workers’ charity.

Giuliana Vittiglio, fundraising and marketing manager at Hospitality Action, said: “We’re indebted to Thornbridge Brewery and JKS Restaurants for their support at this uncertain time. We’ve been inundated with heartbreaking pleas for support since the outbreak of Covid19 and can only help so many, thanks to the support of others. By ordering a case of 4th Rifles you’ll be making a direct difference to the lives of so many UK hospitality workers in crisis — huge thanks on behalf of them all.”

NHS heroes

Thornbridge also wanted to find a way to support healthcare workers helping us all at this difficult time. Having launched a 25% discount for all NHS workers (which at the time of writing, had been used by more than 400 NHS workers) for beer ordered via its online shop, it decided to go a step further and brew a beer to support NHS Charities Together. The idea for Florence was born and all profits raised from its sales will be donated to the charities, to support the incredible work of NHS heroes.

Simon Webster, co-founder and chief executive of Thornbridge Brewery, said: “We are all facing unprecedented challenges just now, but I couldn’t be prouder of the Thornbridge team. Everyone has worked extremely hard to ensure the business continues. We have had the opportunity to drive sales in certain areas in order to achieve some quite incredible figures.

“I must extend our utmost gratitude to customers, both new and old, for supporting our online business, our trade and retail contacts for keeping supply chains open, and our own suppliers for supporting us in so many ways.

“Whilst we are working through it, we are acutely aware that some are in a more difficult position and therefore have chosen to implement a number of charitable initiatives to give a little something back. Local foodbanks and Hospitality Action do fantastic work, and the NHS undeniably deserves our support at this time.

“We hope that when the wider industry returns we will be here to stand alongside fellow organisations and help strengthen business together.”

Once its pubs re-open, Thornbridge has plans to put on a number of parties for NHS workers, to thank them for the work they have undertaken during the pandemic. While the tide may not yet have turned, Thornbridge is hopeful they will stand tall in an industry which will, undoubtedly, need to support each other in the near future.

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