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Insights on UK market - An Interview with James Huges of Woodforde’s Brewery, Norfolk

27/07/2018

London Beer Competition Interviewed James Hughes, CEO of Woodforde’s Brewery in Norfolk and Former Senior Diageo Executive last week. Here are some interesting insights and his views on UK Beer Market

The number of brewers in the UK has grown exponentially in the last few years, growing by over 64% in the last 5 years. Over 300 began new breweries in 2016 taking the number to over 2,000 for the first time since the 1930’s.  

We were fortunate enough to have James Hughes, CEO of Woodforde’s Brewery in Norfolk and former senior Diageo executive tell us about the recent re-launch of their brand and how they see the UK beer market.

Source CAMRA

Woodforde’s has been on a journey since Nelson’s time and this seems to have been a formative phase. Would you like to elaborate a little?

JH. There are two main things for us here, the first is building on the very successful albeit short but rich history of Woodfordes brewery since 1981, which in a short time has become the largest brewer in Norfolk and which has gained a positive reputation across the UK for our core range of beers. The second is the latest evolution of the brewery and the use of Nelson to continue on that journey, with his leadership values and as a symbol and hero of the county we were born in; Norfolk and ensuring that even as we move Nationally, that we never forget our Norfolk roots and the amazing customers that have grown up and supported the brand since its inception.

Is this a good time to develop a brewery in the UK? If so why?

JH Definitely. The beer market has never been more exciting with new styles, flavours and consumers, as well as new routes to market such as brewery collaborations and crowdfunding. There are now a huge number of microbreweries popping up across the UK from home brewers to crowd funders, and with the craft beer movement, it has become a hugely popular time for many people to turn their hobbies into a business.

You have much experience in drinks in the UK and abroad with Diageo, start-ups etc. What does it take to bring something new or revitalised to the UK market and make it successful?

JH Having a clear vision of what you want to achieve, with the right team behind you and a solid infrastructure is absolutely key. Ensuring we are at the forefront of anticipating future trends and understanding our consumers, as well as loving what you do, which for me is an absolute given. I feel we are in the best industry in the world!

I read recently that beer volumes have gone down by 5% so doesn’t that make the market really challenging?

JH In any market there are challenges and opportunities and there have been huge areas of growth in the premium and craft sectors of the market, even with a decline seen across cask. Our growth plans incorporate sustainable growth for the business with our core range that is cask focussed, but with ongoing innovations such as our recent keg beer, Norada, and seasonal innovations delivered throughout the year.

What are Woodforde’s short, medium and long-term ambitions?

JH Short term - continued the growth of the brand and beer across the UK market both through the on and off trade. Longer-term goals focus on new styles and innovation from the brewery, building on current infrastructure and plant investment to grow the brewery site and our production capacity. We will be targeting the take-home market through increased retailer listings as well as continuing to work with the great pub companies already helping to drive and deliver our brand to our customers.

What products are going to be the lead products?

JH Wherry continues to be our main cask ale and our bread and butter product. We have also developed some new pale ales and a great keg beer offering as well as some exciting developments in the innovation pipeline this year in the form of our seasonal range. Of course, we have a couple of other surprises up our sleeves so watch this space.

What distribution model will Woodforde’s follow to get to market?

JH We are in a strong position in the fact that half of our business is delivered by our own vehicles direct to the trade. We also have a strong network of wholesaler partners across the UK, great pub company relationships and now listings across the bigger multiple retailers.

Does that include selling other drinks – wine, spirits, soft drinks etc?

JH At present we are solely focused on delivering great beer.

I heard that even though craft brewing is taking all the noise currently that just 6% of the beer drinking population understands craft beer.  How do you begin to convert the larger population?

JH Extreme movement drives a lot of the innovation, but as you say, it’s fairly small. We are fortunate that our beers appeal to a broader audience and focus more on the mainstream. The consumer market is more inquisitive than ever nowadays, with consumers wanting to know more about their food and drink than ever; where It’s from, the story behind it, the place, provenance and heritage, and we’re lucky to have a really great story to tell including the fact that we have our very own borehole at the brewery where all of our water comes from. We use only the finest malts in our beer, all from Norfolk, which also helps with transport costs and the environment.

Brewdog seems to have done a great job in persuading us that it is (pardon the pun) top dog. A YouGov survey put it at the top of beers that we recommend to our friends ahead of all the big names – Peroni, Heineken, Guinness etc and yet it spends very little or nothing on advertising. Is Brewdog a model for Woodforde’s?

JH Brewdog has been the great trailblazer for the market in general, starting small and now representing the new normal. Our marketing mix encompasses a range of channels; however, our sole concentration is beer quality and consistency and that's what continues to grow our brand year on year and I believe is the reason Wherry has always delivered such great growth for the business over nearly 37 years.

How much does BREXIT affect things?

JH Ultimately, people are always going to drink beer. Opportunities will come from challenges and we are ready to take these on as and when they may arise.

Does Woodfordes have an export strategy?

JH As part of our continued growth, export will play a key role in this moving forward. There is a lot of global interest for British beers so this will be something we will be looking at in the not so distant future.

Thanks, James for your time and frank answers.

Article by Alistair Morrell, The Wine Inspector www.thewineinspector.co.uk June 2018

About The Author

The article is contributed by Alistair Morrell a Wine Inspector, wine industry consultant, journalist and, commentator. Over 30 years as a wine business professional, Alistair shares his global knowledge, network, and experience of growers, importers, distributors and buyers. 

Header image source: https://woodfordes.co.uk

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