How new brewery is weathering ‘seismic’ storm of coronavirus
- Credit: Mark Newton Photography
Duration Brewing had been open little more than three months when coronavirus hit.
Years of preparation had come before their December launch, including thorny planning applications and careful work to transform their home, a farmhouse in the ruins of a 900-year-old priory in West Acre, into a modern brewery.
But the pandemic, and lockdown, was fast upon us, forcing its founders Miranda Hudson and Derek Bates to refocus their fledgling business.
Ms Hudson said they took kegs out of the equation, instead focusing their efforts on cans of beer, and, as pubs closed and wholesalers shut, bottle shops and pubs offering takeaways. Most parts of the business, though, were well-prepared for the challenge.
“We were really lucky we had quite a slick website, automatic courier bookings and our warehouse inventory is automatically updated,” she said. “It wasn’t a mad rush to change our internal workflow.”
All but one of their wholesalers cancelled orders ahead of lockdown, she said, leading to an overnight loss of 85pc of company turnover, a change she described as “seismic” for a new business.
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“It’s incredibly daunting to be making huge changes to your business procedures in such a fluctuating and uncertain market place,” she said.
Over the following weeks, with pub doors remaining firmly closed, breweries’ fears grew.
At the same time, Duration spotted a change in its sales, with significant growth in East Anglia and orders from first time customers.
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Online orders, which had previously accounted for 3pc or 4pc of the business, skyrocketed.
“Because we were only three months in, our route to market wasn’t established so we didn’t have to drastically change anything, just change the levels,” she said.
“We are a small team so we are used to wearing a lot of hats. We stopped producing for three weeks in April, and then in April we also became really busy. Our stocks just totally depleted. In May we never had more than two products available.”
In a stroke of good luck, days before lockdown was announced Duration hired a new member of staff, initially to help with some back office responsibilities. She, since then, has been trained up in other areas of the business.
“An ‘adapt to survive’ mindset has been at play and I am pretty thankful for our set up and our team,” Ms Hudson said,
“Duration is spacious, remote, and a pretty well put together start to finish brewing facility. We are well networked in our industry and have an online shop. What more could I ask for, really?”
While plans for a taproom at the site have been shelved, Ms Hudson and Mr Bates, who hails from South Carolina in America, have adapted how they connect with customers - they now offer virtual tours of the brewery and have started a weekly click and collect slot for locals.
With a strong reputation within the brewing world already cemented, local relationships were being forged when the pandemic hit.
“It was really important to connect with the community,” Ms Hudson said. “We were of the thinking that we are new here, we should take a very soft touch approach, and anyone who wants to stock our beers will come forward.”
A brewery kiosk had been launched, where locals would pop by, explore the brewery, meet the team and take away some cans. They hope to bring it back this summer.
In the immediate future, the husband and wife team’s next milestone is the upcoming launch of Quiet Song, a 4.3pc ABV wheat beer due to be launched virtually on July 4.
They have encouraged beer-lovers around the UK to pick it up from an independent beer shop or bar, which will be listed on an online map on their website.
“We always wanted to launch on July 4, not really for the American aspect but for the celebration of independence,” she said, adding that she hoped the event would become a celebration of everyone involved in keeping the independent brewing industry afloat.
She said it had been reassuring to see the strength of support for independent food and drink producers, as well as how the industry had not just pulled together, but managed to innovate despite the crisis.
“For the last three months we have worked hard and pulled together, and we need to acknowledge that trauma and effort,” she said.
For more information, visit facebook.com/durationbeer/