How Sheffield’s beer industry is trying to stay alive
While pubs and bars across the city are struggling to keep themselves afloat by creating innovative ways of bringing product to their customers, breweries in Sheffield are facing separate challenges as the businesses that they usually supply to are no longer in need of stock. I spoke with Dan Hunt from Heist Brew Co. about how his business has been affected and how he’s having to adapt.
“We have had to change our business model a bit and we’re doing a lot of direct to customer trade now, so we’ve had to create an online store and start selling direct to customers which is something we’ve never really dabbled in before. Everything changed overnight back at the end of March, so immediately we shut down our brewing operation just in the short term while we cleared the backlog and we thought that no one was going to be buying beer; but it turned out that about six weeks after everything got shut down we’re getting inundated with purchase requests from bars and bottle shops. There’s so much interest that we are now going to be upping our production schedule to twice as much as what we were brewing previously. So we went through a bit of a lull, then all of a sudden it just got crazy again.”
As it turns out, for Heist Brew Co. and many others like them, having the flexibility to sell directly to customers has enabled them to sustain themselves pretty well over the past few months. However, as Dan tells me, being able to keep the business financially viable throughout the crisis has not been his only concern, and a sense of community when it comes to Sheffield’s beer industry is something that has continued to suffer. “It’s the community that people are missing at the moment. It’s alright doing this for a bit, but the craft beer scene is a community based on people interacting, people talking, and if that’s not there I imagine that sales of specialist beers would dry up after a while.”
“Sheffield is one of those places where it is important to people, it has got a massive independent community – whether it’s coffee roasters, breweries, clothing outlets, butchers, bakers, etc. From what I can see people are taking advantage of these now and realising that although it does cost a little more money, it is a lot better.”
Tom Lord is one of the administrators of the Sheffield Bartending Community page on Facebook, and I spoke with him about how the hospitality industry has responded to the crisis. As an administrator of this online hub, Tom is able to see first-hand the ways in which those within the industry are being affected, as well as how people are coming together in order to benefit the community. He too is doing his bit to assist those struggling within the industry through his recent launch of Hospitality Gin, a venture which pledges to donate 100% of its profits to supporting UK hospitality.
“This new normal that everyone’s talking about, no one knows what it’s going to look like,” Tom asserts, as we discuss the changes he foresees as venues begin to reopen and the industry starts to find its feet again. “I think we will emerge from the other side of this and the hospitality industry will look very different, partly because there will be a lot of venues that don’t make it through. The support out there has been better than expected, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been enough to save all the small businesses.”
“No one really knows how we’re going to react to this. We’re going to come out of it looking very different, but I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurial independence in order to fill some gaps in the market. A lot of people are going to have spent the last three months sat at home drinking and doing what they want, but they’ll realise that what they’re missing is the experience of being able to go and have a few drinks or a meal out, and it could be that we come out of this and a year after everything is over there will be more of a focus on the customer experience.”
As we talk, Tom considers what he would like to see from the industry as things move forward. Despite the uncertainty and instability, now may be a better time than ever for positive change, and there may indeed be a light at the end of the tunnel for the hospitality industry as a whole. “When you see how many people have just lost their jobs because of what’s happened, I think working conditions will change, and hospitality will hopefully be seen as slightly less of a stop-gap job. My hope is that bartending will start to move back to being considered a skilled profession as opposed to something that you do on a Saturday night, and we need to look at what we can do to facilitate that change.”