‘It was 50/50 whether BrewDog would make it through lockdown’

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Brewdog, Beer, MA500, Sustainability

The enforced coronavirus lockdown meant Scottish brewer and bar operator BrewDog lost 70% of its revenue overnight, causing co-founder James Watt serious concerns over whether the business would be able to trade once restrictions were lifted.

The Morning Advertiser ​(MA​) met up with Watt at BrewDog’s Tower Hill site in London following the announcement that the company had become carbon negative​.

Last month, BrewDog announced it takes twice as much carbon out of the air as it emits in a bid to become the “world’s first carbon negative international beer business”.

The multiple operator also revealed that it recently stumped up the cash for 2,050 acres of land just north of Loch Lomond in the Scottish Highlands, which is currently used for grazing, to help reduce carbon emissions.

It is aiming to create 1,500 acres of broadleaf native woodlands and an ecosystem with the Woodland Carbon Code accreditation programme.

Over the next few years, the brewer and operator is looking to plant more than 1m trees in the BrewDog Forest.

On the decision to become carbon negative, Watt told The MA​: “The more we dug into this, the more we realised we weren't doing nearly enough and we were part of the problem.

“The science is clear, huge change is needed right now. We want to be a catalyst for that change.

“Our business is now carbon negative. What that means is every single year we take twice as much carbon out of the air as we emit, meaning we have a positive impact on the planet and every time someone drinks one of our beers, the world gets a little bit less carbon.”

Long-term commitment

Watt also outlined how the BrewDog Forest could be the first of more woodland areas where the operator will plant many more trees.

“This is hopefully the first of many," he added. "This is a long-term commitment on our behalf. The forest should help us remove twice the carbon out the air that we emit over the next two to four years so after that we envisage doing a similar project again and again on an ongoing basis.

“We don't have a number in our mind yet but we are going to do this for as long as we exist as a company, it is now an integral part of what we do. 

“We are going to continue planting trees and continue making sure we as a business, a community, a team have a positive impact on the planet and hopefully inspire other companies to change as well.”

Since reopening, Watt said operating had been challenging and things would stay tricky in the near future.

“Things have been challenging since reopening," he said. "We are delighted to be open again. It's been very tough year for hospitality and it's going to be very tough for the next six to 12 months.

“We have seen different bars in different locations affected to a different extent. Central London has been really badly affected for us, Eat Out to Help Out had really positive impact, positive numbers Monday to Wednesday but still a challenge.

“It's so hard to know what is going to happen in terms of the pandemic, how it is going to impact customer behaviour to map out what the next six months are going to look like. To plan ahead is really difficult.

“We are going to do all we can to be adaptable, flexible work within the safety guidelines and provide the best customer experiences we can.”

Scary time

However, since pubs and bars were originally ordered to close by the Prime Minister in March, BrewDog has had to rely on its off-trade business even more.

“At the end of March it was 50/50, I honestly didn't know if we, as a company, would make it," he explained. "We lost 70% of our revenue overnight, customers were saying they couldn't pay us, we couldn't get beer into supermarkets, which is our lifeline, because they were focusing on essentials and alcohol wasn't essential.

“It was a very scary time so I had a sleeping bag in the office and I was like 'if the ship is going down, I am going down with this ship'.

“[Now], it looks like we might have weathered the worst of the storm, it's hard to know if we have or not but at the moment it looks like we are going to make it through, live to fight another day but is has definitely been very, very tough and we are very thankful to the e-commerce side of our business which has helped us and the off-trade and international side of the business has helped make up for the hospitality side of what we do."

Related topics: Beer

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