Cloudwater in Tesco

To: Jolly Good Beer Customers
From: Yvan, reviewed by the JGB team

Us, on a Zoom Call on Tuesday

So… you’ve heard the Cloudwater-in-Tesco news, right? This was pretty much as much of a surprise to us as to everyone, though I think we sort of felt something was coming when they started messing around with the core beer range this year. Tesco was a rather stunning surprise for us though (as in I was a stunned mullet, to use an Australian turn of phrase). It’s come at us at probably the worst possible time, during a crisis that already deeply impacts our viability, and will have tangible negative impacts on our business. But … this is “just life”, per se. Cloudwater were far more courteous to us than most brewers have been in this situation, scheduling a call with us the day ahead of the announcement so we had some slight forewarning – and we had a friendly, if slightly sad at our end, conversation about it.

We have had quite a few enquiries about the situation and various views expressed by customers (I, and some of my staff, started getting DMs the night before the announcement). So I feel it is worth “Jolly Good Beer” making a general statement about our position. Especially as we are aware that there is a perception we have close connections to the brewery. (We have worked with Cloudwater since they were founded after all, folk there were our friends before Cloudwater existed and still are – but as a business we are also simply a customer of theirs, buying and selling their beer.)

A key question we have been asked several times is “will you continue stocking Cloudwater”. We will continue stocking Cloudwater. Thoughts otherwise never even crossed my mind. They’re still an independent brewery, and so long as there is still a customer demand for their beer it would be insane for us to decide otherwise. Even without the core beers they’re a key part of our volume, and these are already exceedingly difficult times. Yes, it’s very sad to lose the cores – the scale of this for us is that in normal times the gross margin on core Cloudwater sales covers the wages of perhaps as much as 2 whole JGB employees. (This isn’t quite how margins work in running a business, but suffice to say: it’s a significant number to us.) So we know, intimately, how much losing those reliable sellers means to some of you. We know nothing will replace that overnight. And we know you (and thus we) are now going to lose sales volume to Tesco. (We’ve been through this sort of transition a few times before.) And it sucks, and we feel sad about this. But that is how things are and nothing we do will change it, and throwing our toys out of the pram because we’re the losers in some complex business decision just isn’t useful.

The issue of the other brands involved is another thing, which I have seen has raised a lot of very emotive and sometimes rash responses on “social media”. My personal view is that I am happy to see them happy about this. I hope, earnestly, that this is a great thing for all of them. And, as with Cloudwater, we will stock their beers so long as it is viable to do so, we still desire to support them. We have worked with Queer Brewing, Rock Leopard, and Good Karma of our own accord and entirely unrelated to Cloudwater’s involvement – Eko we have only just recently given a try since Cloudwater brought them to our attention. Like Cloudwater, I believe strongly in taking positive actions to foster inclusiveness and diversity within our industry. Queer Brewing is a project that I have supported prior to them developing their own beer range – and my support for Lily’s work and project is unwavering.

In general I am not against beer being in Tesco – though I have more complex thoughts on this as a wider topic which I won’t go into at this time. From a purely pragmatic standpoint my view on it is that it’s a business decision that brewers can legitimately choose to make. If we are collateral damage in that process that is a business problem for us to deal with, and ideally JGB should aim to not be so exposed to risk on this front – the COVID crisis has made this worse than it might have been. Thus our recent focus on expanding the number of breweries we work with, especially to fill gaps left by others who chose not to support us during this ongoing social and economic crisis – which is a whole other story, and at least Cloudwater didn’t do that to us in the end (though there was that announcement last summer that also almost broke me, we got through that in the end.)

My subjective view on a specific “craft” beer being in Tesco is that is it is a reduction in the independence of that brand, and is not aligned with my own personal views of “craft” – which are more about independence and community than about commodity liquid in a tin in Tesco. You guys, our customers, the independent shops and venues on the retail coalface – you’re key to the heart and soul of craft beer. That’s just how I, Yvan, personally feel about this. But it isn’t something I am going to get angry or (too) emotional about – my emotional response is more deeply rooted in worrying how I am going to continue to support the incomes of the 11 people we provide work to (not including Kat and myself), and whether or not the business I have put everything I have and 7 years of my life into can survive the current times.

I wish everyone good luck – we still have a pandemic to rise out of, and I know for many of us the future remains far from certain. Times are still rather stressful for some of us & emotions can run high. And that is totally OK when your business, your livelihood, is on the line. The burdens on us are heavy. I personally am only just barely holding myself together after all these months – and there have been times I’ve failed to do so. But I think it’s best we try to focus on cracking on with the show, making our own things work, and tackling problems presented to us as they come. These blows will always land on us, and we just have to learn to live with that. Remember there are many breweries and many beers out there, so so many beers… maybe try something different today? Let’s find the next great core beers.