Rais­ing a glass

Cam­den Town Brew­ery’s boss looks to­wards ex­pan­sion

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page -

Fed up with a lack of qual­ity lagers brewed in the UK, Jasper Cup­paidge took mat­ters into his own hands a decade ago and started brew­ing beer in the cel­lar of the pub he owned. The 44-year-old Aus­tralian was frus­trated that amid an abun­dance of fresh pro­duce avail­able in the UK, the same could not be said for the na­tion’s lager.

A decade later and his Cam­den Town Brew­ery has sold more than 127m pints and now has am­bi­tions to con­quer re­gions beyond the M25 and even abroad. But along with its 10th birthday cel­e­bra­tions, these plans have now been put on ice af­ter the clo­sure of pubs dur­ing lock­down saw it swing into the red. The brew­ery, which had forecast sales of £50m this year, now ex­pects beer vol­umes to come in 40pc lower than tar­get.

Dur­ing lock­down, Cam­den Town quickly shifted its at­ten­tion to sup­port­ing pubs that sell its beer and help­ing their “hi­ber­na­tion” by clean­ing pipes and cel­lars and even­tu­ally dis­pos­ing of spoiled beer.

Cam­den, which was snapped up by brew­ing gi­ant AB In­Bev for £85m in 2015, es­ti­mates it was forced to pour more than 1m pints down the drain while pubs were closed.

“We’ve al­ways been built as a ser­vice-ori­en­tated brew­ery – our his­tory comes from pubs, from restau­rants and from bars,” says Cup­paidge. “So it was re­ally im­por­tant that we sup­port them as best we could around beer. That’s what we do – we make beer and we look af­ter our beer.”

Cam­den also came up with some novel ways of rais­ing cash for strug­gling wa­ter­ing holes. “We saw a des­per­ate need in the coun­try among peo­ple want­ing to drink a pint,” says Cam­den’s man­ag­ing direc­tor Adam Keary. “So we did a char­ity auc­tion of a pint of beer that Jasper de­liv­ered in a van with a draught ma­chine set up in the back. Some­one paid £800.”

The cash was do­nated to char­ity Hos­pi­tal­ity Ac­tion and Cam­den has also com­mit­ted to giv­ing away 260,000 pints to pubs us­ing pro­ceeds from sales of its new “To The Pub” canned IPA.

Cam­den’s loy­alty to pubs comes at a test­ing time for the sec­tor, par­tic­u­larly in Lon­don, where al­most half of the brew­ery’s “on-trade” busi­ness is lo­cated. Cam­den sells its beer in 4,300 pubs, 2,100 of which are in the cap­i­tal.

Pub­li­cans such as Young’s boss Pa­trick Dardis have likened Lon­don to “a ghost town” and crit­i­cised Sadiq Khan, the Mayor, for fail­ing to set out a clear path to re­cov­ery for the city’s strug­gling hos­pi­tal­ity op­er­a­tors.

“There has to be some­thing, and I’m hop­ing that there are con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen­ing be­tween City Hall and ma­jor land­lords and tenants in Lon­don, to try to start bring­ing of­fices back,” Keary says. “Cafes, restau­rants, meet­ing spa­ces, pubs and bars – all of those busi­nesses that sur­vive on the ecosys­tem of of­fice work­ing will start to see some real eco­nomic is­sues if we don’t get those peo­ple back in.”

How­ever, he is con­fi­dent that the city will, in time, bounce back. But the firm also has eyes on the rest of the UK. About 70pc of Cam­den’s sales come from the cap­i­tal, with the re­main­der out­side of the M25, in­clud­ing a small por­tion in Europe. It wants to re­verse that re­liance on Lon­don.

“If you look at most busi­nesses in any sec­tor with a fair share of dis­tri­bu­tion, that split is usu­ally the other way around,” says Keary. “That’s where we’d like to get to but we’ll do that by grow­ing out of Lon­don, not by shrink­ing in­side Lon­don.” A £2.5m over­haul of its Cam­den brew­ery and bar, in­clud­ing the in­stal­la­tion of a 50-seat restau­rant, was orig­i­nally due for com­ple­tion this sum­mer but has now been de­layed un­til next year.

AB In­Bev’s takeover of Cam­den five years ago has un­doubt­edly helped the brew­ery tur­bocharge its ex­pan­sion plans. The firm’s in­vest­ment in a brew­ery in En­field in 2017, where it now makes most of its beer, is a prime ex­am­ple of that.

The vast global pres­ence of its owner will also make pur­su­ing an in­ter­na­tional ex­pan­sion more real­is­tic, says Keary, al­low­ing Cam­den to be­gin brew­ing in AB In­Bev’s ex­ist­ing over­seas fa­cil­i­ties when the time is right. Cam­den’s beers are sold in about 200 bars across France, the Nether­lands and Swe­den.

But Cup­paidge is keen to stress that AB In­Bev, which is known in­ter­nally as “the moth­er­ship”, re­mains an “arm’s-length part­ner”.

Craft beer purists are crit­i­cal of nu­mer­ous ma­noeu­vres by big brew­ing multi­na­tion­als over the years to el­bow their way on to the scene. Ri­val brew­ers and in­de­pen­dent re­tail­ers have in the past dis­tanced them­selves from some brands such as Beaver­town, which sold a £40m stake to Heineken in 2018, in de­fi­ance of main­tain­ing an in­die ethos.

Cup­paidge, how­ever, is dis­mis­sive of the ire that such deals of­ten at­tract. “To be hon­est, I don’t re­ally care,” he says.

“There’s some peo­ple out there that make a lot of noise for no good rea­son but the peo­ple who re­ally en­joy us are en­joy­ing us even more. So I’d say con­tinue to drink the beer and if it’s no good, then don’t drink it.”

‘We’ve al­ways been built as a ser­vice-ori­en­tated brew­ery – our his­tory comes from pubs, restau­rants and bars’

Jasper Cup­paidge, Cam­den Town Brew­ery’s boss, at the com­pany’s Ken­tish Town site

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