Sunday, 12 April 2020

CoViD conversations - the elephant in the room

It's an odd sort of state to be in as a beer blogger – there’s nothing to write about, and yet there’s everything to write about. No beer festivals, no travelling, no pubs open, and yet also the knowledge that in some unknown number of weeks’ time, life will be very different.

Some bloggers are handling this unexpected time by catching up on things they’ve been meaning to write for ages. Others who mostly do beer reviews still have quite a few cans and bottles to work through. And then there’s those who have a day-job and can work from home, but must now navigate the 24x7 presence of kids that you can’t even send off to a friend’s house for a play-date.

At least the beer supplies are holding up, especially since off licences and brewery shops were added to the list of essentials allowed to stay open, although how long they can last isn’t clear. I don’t even know how many breweries are still running, given the pressures of social distancing, quarantines and of course actual illness.

Many breweries and even quite a few pubs and bars have opened up mail-order sales to try to keep some income flowing, of course. It’s tough, not least because it’s a sales channel they’re not used to, so some are going to get the mechanics and pricing wrong – but then it’s less about making a profit and more about keeping things going. It also puts a lot of strain on the delivery networks at a time when they too are suffering – last week Verdant Brewing said they’d had to cancel and refund a stack of online orders when ParcelForce said it didn’t have the manpower to service them.

Sadly, despite the UK government discovering where it planted that Magic Money Tree that it told us didn’t exist, there’s likely to be quite a few businesses closing down. Shops and bars that just can’t survive the loss of trade, pubs killed off by greedy pubco bosses demanding rent from empty tills, incompetent bankers refusing to give breweries access by to the crisis loans that they’re supposed to be able to get.

The lockdown calendar
Thankfully several of the older brewing firms have given their pubs rent holidays, which has both earned them a lot of social credit and hopefully given their business a better chance long-term. But once the economy does finally reopen, what then? Some say “nothing will ever be the same” but I think many things will go more or less back as they were.

The scale or balance will have changed though. Hospitality will bounce back, but supermarket sales will have got a boost and we will lose quite a few smaller shops, bars and breweries. Plus, the shift to online sales and away from retail has accelerated – I wouldn’t be surprised if we lose several more big high street names. Yes, it might have happened anyway, but not this fast, surely?

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