Microbrewery adapts to survive

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A microbrewery on the north Cornwall coast has been adapting to survive through successive lockdowns with help from the Acceleration Through Innovation 2 (ATI2) business support programme.

Perranporth-based Black Flag Brewery was established in 2013 by surf-loving brothers Nick and Benedict Sales. Having grown their craft beer business by supplying Cornish pubs, bars and restaurants, as well as opening up their taproom to thirsty visitors wanting to sample their brews on-site, the duo were hit hard when the first wave of the pandemic forced them to close their doors.

Nick Sales said: “As a business, you want to do the right thing, but our rent doesn’t change and our business still has costs even when we are in lockdown. So financially it’s been really difficult.”

With successive lockdowns continuing to turn off their taps, causing their traditional sales and distribution channels to dry up, Black Flag realised it would need to adapt its existing business strategy away from a reliance on wholesale distribution and increase sales to the end consumer if it was to survive the Covid storm.

To do so, the brothers needed to invest in new machinery to package and preserve their beer, as well as build an online web shop and distribution service. However, all this change comes at a cost and at a time when cash isn’t flowing.

Like many businesses during these difficult times, Nick began scanning the business support landscape to explore the funding pathways available throughout Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly.

“We heard about Acceleration Through Innovation from another business they are supporting. We didn’t know it when we first registered with the programme, but we had worked with our business advisor before as he had a background in our industry – which was great.”

ATI2 awarded Black Flag an innovation grant to help the business install its very own micro-canning line, which has had a dramatic impact.

“The financial support has been a lifeline to help with the purchasing of the canning machine, particularly in winter, a period which is always a tight couple of months for us and has been made even tighter with another lockdown,” said Nick.

As a result of the investment, Black Flag Brewery is now able to reduce product losses and stock holding, while also improving product consistency, quality and control.

“Before we had the canning machine we had used mobile canning companies. But oxygen is bad for beer and we had had whole batches ruined in the process. It takes 2-3 weeks to brew our beer and bringing it in-house gives us greater control, reduces costs and creates timing efficiencies as we aren’t waiting for someone else to can it.”

Other such areas of progression include switching to using organic malts and the completion of the brewery’s new web shop, which is now live.