BLOG: Beer, pubs and hospitality come together – but now we need clarity, urgently

Since the closing of our beloved pubs and restaurants in March, as COVID-19 began to affect the UK, we’ve watched the world change. But although this virus is forcing us apart as we try to slow its spread, remarkable acts of solidarity have emerged within the beer and pub industry.

In my decades in beer and the wider alcohol industry I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it. The countless examples of respect and ingenuity during this period to help limit the disruptions to society, wider business and local communities, continues to amaze me.

Coming together during COVID-19

For example, many drinks companies around the world have added hand sanitizer to their usual product ranges to relieve the pressure on supply to those that needed it most. And while some have gone into production on hand sanitizer, others like us, donated pure alcohol to enable others to produce them.

Others have set up schemes for consumers to buy drinks in advance of reopening in order to support closed pubs and bars, with the offer of a beer or drink when the doors open. Our friends in Denmark helped lead the way with their "Adopt A Keg" initiative, but there are other fantastic examples.

Some schemes have been quickly implemented to truly support businesses get ready for the complexity and cost of reopening.

A recent example includes the launch of the Return Your Beer website - a new cross-industry platform to help pubs and bars reclaim duty on spoilt beer and clear their cellars. With the UK on-trade closed down essentially overnight, millions of pints of out-of-date beer have been left in cellars. Getting rid of the spoilt beer in storage is of upmost importance for pubs, in order to start re-stocking ahead of a safe re-opening, as well as claim duty on it.

Just to put things into perspective, the British Beer and Pub Association estimates this could be worth tens of millions of pounds of credit flowing back to pubs and the wider on-trade. So far, more than 20 brewers have signed-up to the platform, with more expected to join. This consistent approach, as opposed to each brewer having a different system, makes it so much easier for licensees.

To move 4th with reopening or not

All said and done, and let’s be brutally honest, while these and other initiatives have certainly gone some way in helping to lessen pressures during this period, we need urgent clarity from the Government on the date when pubs, bars and hospitality can reopen. Many including ourselves, are working towards the 4th July, however, without a confirmed date everyone is left feeling frustrated and many businesses could never reopen again.

Alongside the British Beer & Pub Association and UK Hospitality we are calling on the Government for clarity. Some of the information and statistics provided by both organisations is startling. A quarter of pubs will not be able to open with 2 metres social distancing as venues would operate at less than 30% capacity, and of normal revenues. However, this increases to 70% or break-even at 1 metre social distancing.

1 million jobs are at risk in hospitality over the next two months if businesses cannot reopen in the right way. 

Consumers also need to feel confident. I am not sure ordering a pint through a Perspex screen is what going to a pub is all about. A lot of consumers will feel nervous. We need to give all our customers in pubs the confidence that it is safe to return. The Government changing its position on the two metre rule would help consumers confidence immensely.

The support received from Government to date has been enormously welcome, but the sector is facing an unprecedented challenge and urgent action is required in both the immediate and medium term. We and other BBPA members are desperate to welcome the British public back into pubs this summer, but it is vital that we have more certainty around what the 4th of July actually represents to ensure that UK’s pubs and the wider hospitality sector can survive – and indeed thrive!

Bruce Ray,
Vice-president of Corporate Affairs, Carlsberg UK

Bruce joined Carlsberg UK having spent 18 years at Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, where he held senior roles in sales, marketing and corporate affairs. Bruce is also responsible for our Government Relations & Public Affairs at Carlsberg globally. Bruce sits on a number of industry bodies, is on the Board of IARD, the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, is chairman of the Future Beer Group of the British Beer & Pub Association and an Executive Committee member of the Brewers of Europe.