Speaking to attendees of the Raise the Bar sessions – a series of informative talks at London Craft Beer Festival – Bruce Gray defended his long-term goal of selling 75-80% of Left Handed Giant’s beer direct to customers, and outlined the positive case for more breweries to take a similar approach.
“Partially, why we have approached the marketplace in this way is because there are so many breweries in the UK,” he said. “There is so much competition that we can no longer approach wholesalers with the knowledge of which bars it was going to end up in. It is almost impossible to keep contact once you've sent the beer to the wholesaler.
“The UK market is in a dynamic and healthy position, and I don't believe a group of small breweries following the model we are following will have an impact on the on-trade. If all 2,000 breweries in the UK started to pull their beer from bars and wholesalers, of course, it would have an impact but that will never happen.”
Alternative to selling
Left Handed Giant is currently in the process of building a new brewpub in the centre of Bristol, and already operates a taproom and bar in the city. Gray stated his belief that this business model was a viable alternative to focusing on turnover and rapid growth.
“I have seen a number of breweries trying to claim that they had no choice but to sell to larger companies, because they needed the large scale investment to continue to grow,” he said. “Fundamentally, I disagree with that because the level of growth and size that they are trying to achieve is a choice in itself.”
“When I talk to breweries who are same sort of size to us now, there are certain things that are important to them: quality, innovation, creativity and community – a connection to their area, their employees and the people they are selling their beer to.
“If you talk to larger craft breweries I am sure that they will tell you that their focus was on those same things when they started the company,” he continued. “Somewhere along the way their focus has turned from those things to turnover, routes to market, new export markets, the size of their brew length and the number of fermenters they have.
“But there is an alternative, which can enable you to create a small and profitable company that maintains the brand value, enables you to make a living and to continue to feed money back into your brewery. That is through taprooms and direct sales.”
On how increased direct sales can help maintain the authenticity of a brewery, Gray added: “By selling as much of your beer as possible direct to the customer, you have the ability to control how much profit you are making on your beer.
“There is also no market pressure to dilute the type of product you are creating. The market will want you to brew a session pale or a lager in high volume, but that takes away the creativity and innovation of your brewery.
“We want to be able to brew whatever styles we want and put whatever ingredients we need to into that product to make it as great as it possibly can be, and then be able to put a price tag on it that reflects the raw ingredients that went into the beer. If you're using wholesalers and exporters, your route to market is diluted and those things are without doubt compromised.”