While award-winning brewer Jubel – which received minority investment from Matthew Clark and Bibendum owner C&C during spring 2019 – lost 75% of revenue overnight after Prime Minister Boris Johnson called last orders for pubs on 20 March, it has since seen online orders increase more than tenfold from drinkers in lockdown.
Jubel’s figures buck a sector trend outlined by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) that found beer sales have fallen by 82% overall, despite almost three quarters (70%) of independent brewers offering delivery and takeaway services and 75% of Brits claiming they are drinking the same amount or more since lockdown began, according to YouGov.
“We decided very quickly to drive e-commerce sales, which are now up by 1,400% and, thanks to Government support, we have avoided making any staff cuts,” co-founder Jesse Wilson explained. “I’m really proud of the way the Jubel team has responded to such a challenging situation.”
However, speaking to The Morning Advertiser (MA), Wilson explained that soaring sales to new and existing customers in lockdown would put the beer maker in a strong position to support its on-trade partners when pubs reopen.
“We’re not in a position where all our business has gone, which does leave us with opportunities to drive a channel like online and business-to-consumer sales,” he explained.
“We’ve been able to keep our business going and keep our team in place to drive revenue, which enables us to extend some support to our on-trade customers to really help them get back on their feet when we start to return to a world of slight normality.”
Keg swap initiative
Launched in Cornwall, and enjoying a strong pub presence in the south-west off the back of its contract brewing partnership with St Austell Brewery, Jubel has already pledged to buy back packaged stock previously sold to on-trade wholesalers and is offering to swap unsellable keg inventory with fresh kegs when pubs reopen in a bid to provide cash flow and reduce inventory levels for on-trade customers.
“One of those things that we’ve been quite proactive in offering all our wholesalers – because we predominantly deliver indirect to the on-trade – is the opportunity to swap any keg inventory they have for fresh kegs,” Wilson continued.
“We’re asking them to extend that goodwill to our end customers so if they’ve maybe got three or four kegs in their cellar that they can’t sell because they’re out of date, return them to their wholesaler and we’ll swap for fresh kegs.
“We’re extending goodwill because restocking all their lines with fresh products will be a big cost for a lot of on-trade operators when things open up again and we wanted to help in a small way if we can by doing that straight swap for them.”
Covid-19 impact on on-trade expansion
Winner of the best craft beer category at the 2019 World Beverage Innovation Awards for peach-infused brew Alpine, Jubel is currently found in around 500 on-trade outlets in the UK, including Fuller’s pubs in London, Remarkable Pubs, Incipio Group and “a big chunk of the free trade”.
In November 2019, Jubel co-founder, Jesse Wilson, outlined ambitious expansion plans, telling MA that he wants his fruit-infused craft beer to be sold in more than 1,000 sites by April 2021.
However, he admits that while he hopes said plans continue to be realistic, it’s possible that they may need “a bit of revision” in light of potential knock-on effects of Covid-19.
“We need to be, first and foremost, putting ourselves in the shoes of on-trade operators – either current or potential new customers – and really be sensitive to their challenges,” Wilson explained.
“When things open up on day one, it’s not going to be the right time to have a new business conversation because people are going to be so focused on just opening their pubs. As and when there’s the right opportunity to have new business conversations, we certainly want to.
“There needs to be a bit of a revision just to really take into account on-trade needs and to make sure you’re not being a nuisance.
“The real benefit of being able to have a bit of our business that continues to drive during this time means that, because we can still bring revenue through the door, we get to keep all our team in place and don’t have to part ways with anyone to save on costs.
“That does mean when the on-trade opens up, we’re not in a position where we have to spend the next few months recruiting people. We will be in a position to hit the ground running and resume conversations and trying to increase our distribution. I’m confident that our 12 to 18-month target for distribution will continue to be realistic.”