Above and beyond – the pandemic

With over four decades of experience within the drinks and beer sector, Strategic Director Myles Pinfold explains the importance of longer-term planning and careful brand management.

Predicting the future – what’s going to happen in the next week, let alone next year – has become a very precarious business. But while we have to stay flexible and agile to survive in the very short term, true success will come from longer-term planning, and careful brand management will certainly help you tough things out.

The immediate challenge is how to think and act in new ways to anticipate and adapt to new consumer behaviour patterns in this current COVID-infected environment, culminating in Christmas, the busiest time of the year. For the off-trade, Christmas is pretty much a done deal for the major retailers and to be frank, they have more than enough on their plates as it is. The order of the day is online sales, beer on demand (including growlers and mini-kegs) and gifting. For the on-trade, it is all about getting closer to your customers and supporting them in every way you possibly can –  it’s at times like this that we all find out who our true friends are.  Oh, and also making sure your brewery tap is fully operational. Get it right and it will sustain you through to next spring, and beyond.

In the longer term, the key issue is all about cutting through the noise – and let’s face it, there is one heck of a lot of noise in the beer sector – and communicating directly to consumers in an intuitive way that builds your equity. Retaining a clear vision, a compelling proposition and a differentiating brand will enable you to deliver sustainable and long-term growth. The challenge is that there are still over 2,000 brewers in the UK, each one faced with the same dilemma: you need to stand out from the crowd.

Looking beyond the beginning of 2021, and seeking out potential market opportunities, the Nielsen/CGA ‘on-premise’ insights into the COVID era in the USA makes for some interesting reading. The USA beer sector often acts as a bellwether for us in the UK, except that they don’t have our beautiful cask-conditioned beers or our wonderful English pubs. The word on the streets over there is that the shift is still very much towards the high-end. With less time spent in bars, drinkers are consuming less and paying more. There is also a preference for local to national by a factor of two to one. In terms of beer style preference, IPA still outperforms its nearest rival as the beer of choice (also by a factor of two to one).

There is as yet no real sign of Big Craft on the horizon from the big brewers, so we’ll hold back that a topic for another day…

Myles Pinfold is founder and strategic director of WPA Pinfold: wpa-drinks.co.uk