Business / Gin and beer companies look online as they adapt to pressures of pandemic

Shetland Reel Gin's Debbie Strang (left) and Lerwick Brewery's Jonny Sandison (right).

THE LAST 12 months have been tough for most businesses – but what about those in the alcohol industry?

With bars and restaurants closed for long periods during the coronavirus pandemic, companies making alcohol have had a topsy turvy year.

Whilst sales in licensed premises fell across the country, there was a natural rise in off-trade sales as more had a tipple or two at home.

Locally the pandemic has forced Shetland-based drink companies into thinking a little differently.

Shetland Reel Gin, which is located in Unst, has seen sales drop across Shetland and Orkney by 84 per cent due to the closure of hospitality venues, cancelled festivals and the tourism market collapsing.

Despite this, turnover for 2020 was actually up on the previous year, with the team focusing on online sales, while a partnership with mainland supermarket chain Lidl bore fruit.

Online sales increased by 250 per cent thanks to digital marketing, including revamping its social media strategy.


Director Debbie Strang said: “Shetland Distillery has had to adapt like any other small business over the past year and has looked at every part of how it operates and delivers first class gin.

“Everything has changed and through the team’s hard work and effort our turnover for 2020 was greater than in 2019.

“For two separate weeks Shetland Reel is part of Lidl’s Scottish spirit promotion. Between the lockdowns Shetland Reel was able to deliver to meet the promotions in April and October on a UK-wide basis.”

The company has also received a “significant amount” of money from VisitScotland’s Visitor Attraction Fund.

Strang said it will “ensure we can undertake some internal changes to make sure we are Covid safe and ready to welcome visitors, as well as make provision for more guided tastings once we are open, so that we are ready for the Shetland visitors who want to explore locally as well as those visitors from elsewhere in the UK.”

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Beer purveyor Lerwick Brewery, meanwhile, is also looking ahead to taking in customers when the time is right.

The company, which hosts a brewery at its site on the outskirts of Lerwick, has also placed extra emphasis on selling online.

“Pre-Covid, approximately 50 per cent of the brewery’s sales were to pubs, bars and restaurants, both in Shetland and the mainland which was cut off overnight when restrictions came into place,” brewery manager Kathryn Herculson said.

“The focus switched to selling directly to consumers online, through their own website and so third party e-commerce sites like Amazon.

“With Shetland’s restrictions set to ease slightly quicker than the rest of the UK, the brewery are looking forward for the on-trade opening again in the coming weeks, and to be able welcome locals in for tours, not just as a shop.


“They will be offering local pubs, bars and restaurant staff the chance to come to the brewery for a training session to learn more about the beer making process and our beers in line with them being able to open again.”

The company also had plans to hold event nights in the brewery building at Staney Hill, but they were put on the backburner due to the pandemic.

Recent research, meanwhile, showed that one in five people of those surveyed said they had drunk alcohol as a way to handle stress or anxiety during the first lockdown.

In Shetland the Recovery Hub and Community Network offers support to anyone about their own or others alcohol use.

The Recovery Hub and Community Network in Shetland can be contacted on 01595 744402 or email recoveryhub@shetland.gov.uk

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