Return to work? Some workers never stopped!
For the Griffin Brewery it has been business as usual over the past couple of months. They’ve had to make a shift from producing keg and cask beer when the pubs shut, to filling far more bottles and cans, as we’ve been drinking a lot more at home. Now they’re gearing up for the pubs reopening and they’ve also reopened their on site shop.
The brewery is usually open for tours. Climbing around the steel staircases which wind between the vats of fermenting beer with a guide is a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, especially as the tours end in the Hock Cellar for a tasting. Public tours, free to holders of a Chiswick Calendar Club Card, were sadly the first casualty of the lockdown at the brewery. The brewery shop, where the tours usually start and finish, was also closed to the public at the same time as pubs and most shops across the country.
But production has continued apace. While the pubs have been closed, at home alcohol purchasing increased on average by 40% (between 20% and 60% depending on the brand). According to The Grocer, trade magazine for food and drink retailers, the British public splashed out an extra £160m on supermarket booze in the first three weeks of March ‘as the coronavirus crisis swept shoppers into a frenzy’.
In March off-licence sales of alcohol soared 31.4% in volume terms. Online sales jumped to more than 22% of all sales, compared with an average of 18% over the last year. With pubs closed it suddenly became all about bottles and cans rather than kegs and casks.
“We’ve certainly been keeping busy here!” says Steve Hadcroft, General Manager at the Brewery. “While pubs and restaurants have shut up shop, demand for our products has remained high. So we’ve been working hard as a team to get them out to our customers across the UK and beyond.”
“These are extraordinary times but there’s a terrific team spirit. Everyone has pulled together to tackle the challenges and to ensure we’re operating in the right way. Our number one priority throughout has been the safety and well-being of our colleagues. We put in place a number of measures including social distancing controls, adjusted shift patterns and enhanced hygiene practices.”
“We’ve also been looking at the small things we can do to support the community. Alongside the London Pride campaign to fundraise for the National Emergencies Trust, we’ve donated several thousand products to the grocery points that have been set-up at various hospitals across London, for doctors, nurses and other staff to enjoy on their much-earned downtime. We’ve also been making our own hand sanitiser on-site in Chiswick, using a WHO approved formula. We felt was important to have enough for our staff while helping to preserve external supplies for key workers.”
Online sales up 1500%
Asahi’s other facilities have all been carrying on production too, and people have been turning to online shopping to get their hands on their favourite pints. That has kept Jessica Davis and her retail team in the brewery shops on their toes:
“With everyone locked-down at home, we’ve been handling a huge increase in online orders – probably 1500% more than normal for this time of year which we have managed with no interruptions and most items being delivered the very next day. Lots of those orders are local customers who might normally come into the shop, but we get orders from as far afield as Inverness.
In the first few weeks, a lot of people told us they were missing a proper pint in the pub, so we’ve also brought back our five and ten litre mini-barrels that we usually do during the festive season. The challenge here was for our production team who have had to find a way to fill these by hand and who have gone out of their way to help us keep up with the demand.”
“We are happy to announce we reopened the brewery shop on Wednesday (17 June). It will be open every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 2.00-6.00pm. We’ll have all the precautions in place – hand sanitiser, protective screens, contactless payment, capacity limits – so that’ll take some getting used to, but we’re all really looking forward to seeing customers again”.
Fuller’s London Pride supports the National Emergencies Trust
The brewery have also launched a London Pride campaign to support the National Emergencies Trust – a fundraising appeal which supports a range of charities helping people affected by the coronavirus emergency. If you make a donation through London Pride’s donation page or through the online shop, Asahi will match your donation, up to £50,000.
The focus for the brewery now is on gearing up for the ‘new normal’. Initially, that will mean supporting the tricky task faced by pubs across the UK, forced to shut due to CoVID-19, of disposing of old beer that’s been sat in kegs in cellars.
Keg beer will have to be thrown away
The shelf life of a keg of beer is only three or four months, and it will be July at the earliest before any of the pubs reopen. The British Beer & Pub Association estimate that some 70 million pints of beer will need to be destroyed. But the brewery team are already gearing up to start supplying keg beer again as soon as they’re able. Ian Olner is the man in charge of making sure the Fuller’s London Pride pumps can start flowing again:
“Most of the cellar and bar equipment has been dormant for a couple of months, so actually three weeks isn’t that long to get the pumps ready for restart”, he says. “My team are already going into customer’s pubs (suitably distanced) to give everything a once-over and provide technical support where needed.”
“The whole industry has been through an incredibly tough few months and I’m very proud of how all our colleagues have risen to the challenge. Our focus now is on helping pubs and restaurants to get back on their feet and pouring as quickly as possible”.
Read More Stories on The Chiswick Calendar
See also: 15 June Shops reopen