Opinion

‘Road to recovery for pubs and breweries stretches many years ahead’

By James Calder, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers

- Last updated on GMT

‘Simple’ message: ‘Get out there and socialise safely. Be patient with those that serve you. Enjoy beer from a local independent brewery,’ James Calder says.
‘Simple’ message: ‘Get out there and socialise safely. Be patient with those that serve you. Enjoy beer from a local independent brewery,’ James Calder says.

Related tags: Siba, Siba chief executive, Beer, Craft beer, Independent brewers, Brewer, Brewery, Coronavirus, Finance, Legislation

We’ve all seen the pictures of people enjoying pub gardens and brewery tap yards across the UK. You might assume that everything for our industry is getting back to normal.

But take a look a little deeper and the picture is very different. 

Breweries will not be “back to normal” for many months, perhaps years to come.  

Four weeks ago, pubs in England were allowed to serve customers for the first time in 114 days. 

Two weeks ago, Welsh and Scottish patrons got their first taste of a proper pint and Northern Ireland followed last Friday. 

For many millions of people across the UK, this has been the boost that we have all desperately been waiting for. We were able to see friends, family and loved ones. We were once again able to ‘put the world to rights’ over foaming glasses of local beer. 

This action is symbolic and full of hope. It is a step towards reclaiming our freedom and restoring a sense of normality after a year of hardship like no other – it’s going to allow us to re-learn how to socialise in 3D (rather than 2D) once again. 

Industry ‘conundrum’  

From my perspective these pictures and these experiences fill me with optimism. 

I would absolutely encourage everyone to cease spending their evenings on the sofa. Put on your best jumper and thick socks and visit your local pub or tap yard – after the year you’ve had, you deserve it.  

But we in the industry are in a bit of a conundrum.  

While pubs reopening is hugely positive, only a third of premises have the outdoor space to open and those that do are still unlikely to be turning a profit. As such, the small independent breweries that rely on supplying them aren't profitable, either. 

You may say, “when we’re allowed to socialise in pubs inside, things will change?” and you’d be right. They will. 

But as we learned from our experiences in the summer of 2020, being open inside, but with social distancing restrictions and reduced capacity, makes many premises unprofitable. All the investment made to make premises ‘Covid secure’ has not been earned back yet. 

Every time a new restriction was introduced, we saw an immediate and substantial drop in trade. If pubs were closing and in trouble before the crisis, they definitely are now.

That's why reopening in June, without social distancing restrictions, is vitally important for businesses which have struggled to turn a profit at vastly reduced capacity and who are now looking forward to what should hopefully be a busy and profitable summer.

‘Stuck in the middle’

But the scars of a year like no other will persist for many months, or even years to come. 

Breweries have not received direct financial support like pubs have, despite doing over 80% of their trade with them. 

Millions of pints of beer had to be poured down the drain this year, beer that brewers were forced to pay for not once, but twice. They paid for the time, ingredients and energy that went into making it the first time. 

They then paid for the manufacture and the beer tax on it a second time when pubs expected the beer poured away be replaced for free when they reopened. Brewers were “stuck in the middle”. 

Nearly every independent brewery in the land has taken out huge bounce back and Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme loans to keep the lights on, rent paid and businesses ticking over. This is debt the vast majority had not built into their business plans, and it will take years to pay back, when others had grants with no strings attached and who won’t endure that burden. 

The message is simple: Get out there and socialise safely. Be patient with those that serve you. Enjoy beer from a local independent brewery. 

But spare a thought for the people and the businesses that have suffered and will continue to suffer as you enjoy those first sips of that delicious golden liquid. Because if you don’t, those businesses may fail just as there is hope that this crisis is now finally over. 

Related topics: Beer

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