My Week: Andy Wood of Adnams

Andy Wood, CEO of brewery, pub business - and now distillery - Adnams, talks candidly about the downturn, falling customer confidence and why it's better to be an SME.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
It’s an interesting time to be in the pub trade. At its zenith last year, there were 50 pubs a week closing. That’s meant that Adnams, like many others in this sector, has had to drastically rethink its business model, open new distribution channels, and focus on bringing new products to market in order to attract new consumers.

It’s been challenging but we’ve made real strides since the downturn began. This year will be the second time we’re sponsoring the Tour of Britain cycle race in Southwold, where Adnams is based. Cyclists are a real target demographic for us. Have you seen the people riding big, expensive racing bikes? The middle-aged men in Lycra spending thousands on a carbon fibre chassis? They like to drink traditional English ale.

We’re constantly bringing out products, so there’s always something new for our customers to try. Around 22% of our volumes now come from new product development. We even launched Diamond Ale to coincide with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It’s gone down enormously well.

We’ve also just installed a distillery on the side of brewery so we can now distil spirits: gin, vodka and our very own eau de vie, Adnam’s Spirit of Broadside. We launched the spirit line just a couple of weeks ago and I’ve already got strong hopes for the business. We don’t need to take on the giants with this one. The beauty of being a small to mid-size firm like us is that a small amount of market share makes a significant difference to us but is insignificant to the big boys.

It’s been getting harder and harder to convince consumers to buy, however. Customer confidence is at an all-time low. And you can’t really influence or change that as a business, because it stems from the economic uncertainty. I spend one or two days a week with customers at the moment, visiting pubs and finding out which products they like and what more we can do to win their custom. This means a few evenings spent on the road; the hospitality industry doesn’t finish at 5, alas.

But we’re not just relying on customers at home for growth. We also have a significant export business – Adnams is huge in Scandinavia, and Sweden especially. We also export to the US, which could be big, and we’re focusing on some of the emerging markets too. Not just Asia, but some interesting up-and-coming economies like Mexico.

And that’s the thing about a downturn. We’ve got to use that time to make sure we’re innovating and keeping customers happy. That way, when the uptick comes, we’ll be ready.

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