Last week some pubs reopened: external table-service only. In a couple of months, assuming all goes well, we’ll be back inside and it will be just like Christmas 2019 …. or, perhaps not …….
After over a year with minimal trade, for some pubs the next few months could be their last hurrah. Lots of us have built up savings and will be happy to go out and spend: we know ‘cask is best.’ For those who can open, this may lead to a profitable summer. However, this short-term fillip is unlikely to last.
During the last lockdown, our government banned pubs from selling beer in sealed containers while supermarkets and off-licences could sell alcohol to take away. This was grossly unfair and while assisting the multi-nationals simultaneously caused huge damage to the sector. For some pubs, the next few months will be a last hope, but also an opportunity to sell-off stock before inevitable closure.
In addition, Brexit is causing both price increases and supply delays. Cross-border regulations have resulted in some European online bottle shops to raise their shipping costs or simply cease UK delivery. The price of niche imported beers will rise and choice will suffer. European barley and hops are also becoming both more expensive and more difficult to source. This will cause tighter margins among both small innovative breweries and in the craft beer market.
Many small brewers have attempted to diversify. Some are unlikely to return, while others are hoping that it won’t be too long before things return to some form of normality. Rising costs, coupled with the effect of the pandemic will cause breweries to fold – there are almost 2000 listed in the 2021 CAMRA GBG. There will be less in the 2023 edition.
As to the future, my guess is that, assuming there is no fourth wave, the number of breweries in the UK will fall by between 10 and 20%. As for pubs, the multi-nationals will buy some while others will not reopen and many will close. The overall number will fall.
I hope to be proved wrong..