17th March 2020
A note from our Chief Toaster and Chief of Planet, People and Profit …
Update (3 April 2020)
This week has not been easy. The impact of covid-19 on the business has felt incredibly real and we’ve had to make big changes so that we can continue to operate. But we also feel fortunate to still be open for business, and have focussed our energy on delivering positive impact to our communities.
We made the difficult decision to furlough many of our team with support from the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We have been open and transparent since this started that roles may need to change. Everyone had 1:1s with Rob to talk through the contingency budget and discuss options, and we were blown away with how understanding and supportive everyone was. Right up until signing off, the team’s enthusiasm to set us up to succeed in such difficult circumstances was mind-blowing.
To Mikey, Mike, Roisin, Lawrence and Chris, we are humbled and grateful and hope we will do you proud. Here’s to being back together to raise a Toast.
The remainder of the team have taken a 30-50% pay cut and are working around the clock to adapt the business. We are sharing new responsibilities and learning new skills. Fortunately, being a young business we’re used to the start-up way of working that means being able to adapt quickly, and we are already set up with digital communication technology which has certainly helped.
It has been painful to hear about our business customers struggling, and some closing their doors indefinitely. But also inspiring to see restaurants quickly becoming food delivery businesses and even retailers. The hospitality sector has been hit hard and businesses are doing everything they can to survive and keep us fed.
We anticipated the impact this would have on us, but had hoped our big retail customers would help to cushion some of the blow.
It quickly became clear that the supermarkets, quite understandably, were focusing on the provision of essential items. The panic buying and additional demand (as people change from eating out to having every meal at home) meant that they were struggling to manage inventory from depots to store rooms to the shelf. That meant that we saw our beers temporarily removed from many online shops and reduced distribution in-store.
This has begun to change and we’re relieved that orders are coming in again. This is partly thanks to the supermarkets introducing new systems. Who would’ve imagined we’d be queuing online to do our shopping like tickets for a gig?! We’re all in favour if it means prioritising our vulnerable communities and incredible front-line staff.
There has also been a huge recruitment drive, with many of the people who’d lost their jobs now helping to ensure there is food (and beer) on the shelves. Co-op, for example, recruited 5,000 people. Be kind if you do go to stores - remember retail workers have a lot of contact with customers and so it’s a particularly worrying time for them.
Meanwhile we’re adapting to being an e-commerce business. We’ve launched a shiny new website that we hope makes it simpler to buy beer online (turned around in a matter of weeks by the team at MTC - thank you!) and we’ve removed the delivery charge that has been a barrier in the past. To support our webshop, we opened the first Digital Taproom, and launched our Beer Trolley to make it easy for companies to bulk-buy for their team after (home)work drinks online.
We've experienced a huge increase in demand for home-delivery beers so we’re working with our distribution partner to manage this. We're learning fast and adapting quickly (as are they!), and are incredibly grateful to customers for beering with us - we’re a bit slower than usual. Thank you for all your kind messages of support.
Overall our revenue is still significantly down, but it’s not as bad as it could have been given pubs, bars and restaurants usually account for 60-70% of our business. So we’re feeling optimistic. Which is good for the soul too.
Usually when we talk about impact it is directly related to the positive environmental impact we have by using surplus bread to replace barley, and delivering systemic change to the food system by funding charitable work and inspiring others. For now we are focussing on the human story.
Working with our charity partner Feedback, we will be funding projects to feed people in need. We’ve introduced a meal deal for our webshop that means every beer bought will fund a meal for vulnerable people in our communities. The first organisation will be the Alchemic Kitchen based in Knowsley, Liverpool, one of the most deprived areas in the UK.
We launched this campaign this morning and have had an incredible response already, from customers buying beer (get yours now) to messages of support from other businesses. Our friends at Rubies in the Rubble are even adopting this giving model to also support Feedback for their Easter campaign “Pass the love”.
We’ll be updating our impact page to keep you updated about the number of people we’ve been able to help through our Meal Deal.
Original post (17 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