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Drink firms need spirit to stay alive

  • Date: Monday 19th October 2020
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As the last order bells fell silent and restaurants closed their doors once again on 9th October, it’s safe to say that 2020 has not been the year for Scotland’s hospitality industry.


The Scottish Government’s two week circuit breaker is now in full swing and yet there is still a substantial amount of confusion and disagreement over the strict definition of a café. One thing that everyone can agree on though is that licensed trade premises need to reopen sooner, rather than later.


With the new measures in place, frontline hospitality businesses aren’t the only casualty, as drinks suppliers have been left out to dry this sober October too.


With on-trade doors closed, many suppliers are seeing cancelled orders a-plenty, which could potentially lead to a devastating domino effect for the hospitality sector. What’s the point in reopening your pub, if you’ve no punters to sell beer or spirits to, or vice versa?


Even during the pre-circuit breaker period when the 10pm curfew was in effect, the demand for a beer or bottle of wine at home soared, as Britons spent an extra £261 million on alcohol in supermarkets and off licenses in September alone. 


With a lot of hospitality businesses finding themselves with their backs against the wall once more, it’s reassuring to see that the pressure is bringing out a number of innovative ideas and helping to raise the bar for bars everywhere, as drinks companies quickly adapt their business strategy.

In a quick and amusing response to the new lockdown measures, Glasgow’s Drygate Brewery provided a way for craft beer lovers to make the most of the lockdown, creating a ‘Circuit Breaker’ box containing a single beer for each of the 16 days that licensed premises must remain closed.  


It was a light-hearted touch, but the option to provide drinks directly to consumers at home is a key strategy, being taken seriously by breweries across Scotland.


One of those is Wee Country’s Harviestoun Brewery, who have returned to the online marketplace to try and retain some of their income profits through selling their specialist beers over the web.


According to Stuart Cook, a managing director at the Forth Valley brewery, the initial lockdown saw a devastating 75 per cent drop in revenue, as demand from hospitality businesses disappeared without a trace.


With hospitality businesses located outside of the Central Belt allowed to remain open, albeit on reduced hours and with limiting measures related to alcohol sales, a drastic U-turn on stock has taken place with owners searching for alternative products to replace the void left by banned alcohol sales. 


As expected, non-alcohol drinks have bubbled to the surface on drinks menus across Scotland, such as the popular St Andrews eatery Haar, where owner and former MasterChef finalist, Dean Banks, has launched a huge new range of mocktails for restaurant goers to enjoy.

The Scottish Government has handed a golden opportunity for non-alcohol drinks manufacturers, and suppliers are wasting no time in encouraging open venues to rethink their stock while the immediate future of alcohol sales in Scotland is uncertain.


Two independent Scottish brands specialising in alternative bar drinks, Rapscallion Soda and Feragaia, have teamed up to showcase a range of non-alcohol drink recipes and provide a fresh perspective for hospitality businesses keen to take on more zero percent products. What’s more they are kindly raising funds for MacMillan Cancer Support along the way. 


Another non-alcoholic beverage business that has been making waves during lockdown is Jump Ship Brewing, a non-alcohol beer brand based in Edinburgh. Founder Sonja Mitchell believes that alcohol free products are actually a great way for cafes and restaurants to adapt their menu and ‘future-proof’ themselves against any changes that may potentially come into effect over the next few months. 


To help sway businesses further, the brewery has kindly removed its minimum order for suppliers and are arranging free delivery for restaurants and bars who are keen to attract those customers still determined to go out and enjoy a meal where they can.


It’s refreshing to see businesses innovate and thrive during this harsh time for the hospitality sector and I hope this new approach may provide at least some answers to the long list of challenges that the industry faces.


Throughout this difficult period I’m optimistic that Scottish businesses have the spirit to survive.


Sidebar 311

It’s an exciting time for tech gurus and avid gamers across the country right now, with lots of new product launches on the horizon for 2020 and beyond.

With the nation currently spending much more time at home, it’s a certainly a good moment to be involved within the tech industry, keeping people both entertained and connected – but expectations are sky high.

Apple has revealed the next generation of its ever popular products, namely the iPhone 12, Apple Watch Series 6 and brand new iPad Air.

Meanwhile over in the gaming world, Microsoft has announced its Xbox Series S/X and Sony will launch the PlayStation 5, all in time for Christmas. However, I expect that there may be some pre-order disappointments and teething issues, if the respective shambolic launch announcements are anything to go by.

These are all global giants in the industry, but it’s great to see expansion and development within the world of tech and gaming much closer to home.

Rockstar North, the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption developer headquartered in Edinburgh, acquired Ruffian Games just last week, which has now rebranded as Rockstar Dundee.

Dundee brings the studio number to ten under the global Rockstar banner, joining offices in Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Lincoln, New York, New England, San Diego, Toronto and India.

What’s more, it’s great to see Rockstar North going back to its Dundee roots, where David Jones originally founded the company in what was known back then as DMA Design.

There won’t be many in the world who are unfamiliar with the Grand Theft Auto franchise, but I wonder now, with a new team of designers and developers under the Rockstar banner, whether we may see more game releases in years to come, directly from the Scottish teams.

It’s great to see more investment in Scottish tech and game development growing further within Scotland.

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When the country was first hit by lockdown in March, many businesses and individuals got creative by moving events online, with zoom pub quizzes, living room discos and virtual live tours.

With more local lockdowns coming into force for the winter months, unfortunately it looks like these novelty virtual events and experiences are here to stay.

They have their place and can result in a business reaching a much wider audience, but I have to draw the line at virtual food experiences – smell or taste-o-vision just doesn’t cut the mustard with me.

However that didn’t stop The World Porridge Making Championships, historically hosted in the highlands, taking place remotely this year.

Crieff local, Chris Young, took home the virtual golden spurtle, but I feel they oat to have known better.

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New figures from The Office for National Statistics last week painted a pretty bleak picture for unemployment across the UK.

Evaluating the period between June and August, Scotland’s jobless rate was 4.6 per cent and redundancies across the UK rose by 49 per cent. Worse still, these figures don’t fully take into account those who are still on furlough which ends this month.

With 63,000 fewer employees on payrolls in September, no doubt this figure will drastically rise before the year end.

The harsh reality is that many people could fall into poverty, with the number of people claiming welfare and benefits already more than double compared to 2019 figures.

We can only hope for more support through government initiatives and that thriving businesses can look to recruit for 2021.


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