17th March 2020
March is usually the time of year when beer sales would be really picking up, with Dry January behind us and the events calendar filling up. This year will be very different for all of us. We don’t know what the full impact of COVID19 will be – it feels like we’re looking into a crystal ball – but we’re doing our best to imagine different versions of the future and plan for each scenario. We wanted to share our latest thinking and experiences so that we might help others. Please feel free to reach out to us if we can help in any way, or if you just fancy a chat.
Our immediate concern is for the health and wellbeing of the team. One Toaster has already experienced Coronavirus. He reported that it came on quickly – a slight cough in the morning that developed into high fever within a matter of hours – but left almost as suddenly as it arrived. A few others in the team had ‘colds’ and self-isolated as were unsure if it was Coronavirus – they’re young and as seems to be the case may be asymptomatic. In any case, we’re now all working from home and doing as we’re told to try to distance ourselves physically from others.
We’re purposefully talking about physical distancing because we are trying really hard to maintain social connections. It’s vital for everyone’s mental health. At 9am every morning, all 11 of us are getting together on a Google Hangout to check-in. We want to make sure everyone is seeing each others’ faces and starting the day with a chat about nothing very much in particular. Our regular Thursday TooGoodToGo brunch will be replaced by a late afternoon beer ‘together’. And though we’ll be making good use of our usual remote-working tech such as Slack and Asana, we’re encouraging the team to call each other more and connect voices.
We recently reviewed our values as a team, with help from Catherine at fellow B Corp Ella’s Kitchen. We are leaning on those values now more than ever as we are faced with some very difficult decisions ahead.
We have a responsibility to make sure that the business survives covid-19. Sales to many customers will fall dramatically now that people have been advised to stay away from popular beer drinking destinations like pubs, bars and restaurants, plus those that you might not necessarily think of large consumers of beer such as hotels (we supply Hilton Metropole) and theatres (we supply Sadlers Wells).
Retail is more of an unknown – as people are forced to self-isolate, it’s likely there will be a dip in sales. On the other hand, we‘re witnessing people panic-buying from many retailers, including some of our biggest customers (Waitrose, Tesco, Ocado and Co-op). The panic buying might not extend to beer for a while, but we took decisive action early to build up stock so we’re confident we can continue to supply.
To cushion some of this impact, we have our online shop. We were in the process of rebuilding the site to improve the experience for customers when this crisis hit, but the re-launch was planned for April. The timing is unfortunate, but we hope people won’t mind a few niggles in the circumstances. We’ve removed the delivery charge to help. If you’re supporting us by buying beer online, thank you!
We also have to consider costs. This is particularly challenging as there is a huge human impact to any decision we make. We are considering how to act responsibly, for the long term health of the business and for the personal implications for each of the team. We brought everyone together on Monday to share the scenarios we have modelled and asked everyone to consider options. That might be reducing pay, moving to part-time or taking a period of unpaid leave. We are also of course looking at all other costs first and reducing them as far as possible. It is an emotional time for us as a small and close-knit team.
We built the business with the environment at our heart, and nothing we do now will change that. Our beer will continue to be brewed with surplus fresh bread from the bakery and sandwich industries – if we don’t have access to that supply we won’t brew. Perhaps people’s relationship with food will change so that food waste becomes a thing of the past. That would be a silver lining! We’ll continue to help that become a reality by sharing advice and tips, including our home brew recipe (might now be the time you invest in a home brew kit and learn a new skill?).
Our mission and our values align us with businesses sharing a common mission for a better world, in particular social enterprises and the B Corp community. We have already seen an outpouring of support from such companies and we offer our companionship too. Lean on each other, and lean on us too. These connections will provide the strength to see us through.
Take care and stay safe,
Louisa & Rob