The East Anglian Brewing Co-operative (EABCo) has been identified as the only operating co-operative (limited company) within the UK brewing sector. It was established in 2005 to meet the business requirements of micro-breweries. Such initiatives included: centralised procurement, local malt development, government grant application, pricing agreements between members, sales & marketing.
The inspiration and founder, Brendan Moore, kindly hosted my visit in early March 2020. Brendan currently engages with co-operative members to develop their brewing skills, business opportunities and customer/consumer engagement. He is an advocate of ‘the short supply chain’, whereby all supply chain contributors (grower, maltster, brewer, seller) come together in a united effort to develop the best quality beer to sell at the right price so that everyone makes a good profit. He stands for differentiation in an effort to raise consumer perception of craft ale towards a premium product rather than a commodity, where it is difficult to compete with massive drinks corporations.
The reason I was keen to visit EABCo was to understand the motives, benefits and organisation of the co-operative and how its objectives have evolved since its inception.
Brendan had planned an action-packed itinerary, the first stop being Crisp Malting where we met Carl Heron, Craft Brewing Sales Manager. Historically, it was impossible for small breweries to approach the maltster because of minimum batch sizes but by working together they were able to select a variety of their locally grown (Maris Otter) barley to have it specially malted for their brewing purposes. Brendan was keen to unite the local breweries in selling their story of local grown ingredients and brand the Norfolk coast as the ‘Malt Coast’.
The formation of a co-operative allowed economies of scale through joint procurement activities and negotiation with Crisp Malting. However, during the discussions and tour of the Norfolk ale scene with Brendan, it rapidly became apparent that several individual (farm-based) breweries had received funding through rural development schemes. In fact, the EABCo was set up on the back of funding and for the primary purpose of providing a vehicle for funding that was otherwise inaccessible to the individual micro-firms.
The Real Ale Shop – Branthill Farm
A recipient of funding has been Teddy Maufe, a farmer in Norfolk who grows Maris Otter barley for the co-operative members to brew their beer, which is then sold through the farm ale shop. This closes the supply chain and provides full traceability for the ingredients. Controlling the sales outlet helps maintain pricing and the ability to market the unique qualities of heritage and provenance.
All Day Brewing Company
Given Norfolk’s agricultural and tourism industry, other breweries are located on farms and grow various ingredients for brewing. Simon Barker, All Day Brewing Company, grows his own hops, herbs and cultivates wild yeasts. He is located on a farm unit with several other small businesses in an effort to capitalise on footfall. These other aspects of local ingredients and processing, traditional methods and historical story are all interwoven into marketing the EABCo craft beer as a premium product.
Could this model work in Wales?
Although there are many lessons and ideas to be gleaned from the EABCo, there are structural differences in terms of the operating environment in Wales, which has a mixture of rural and city based breweries. Even the weather influences the crops that can be grown and types of tourism.
However, there is much merit in Brendan’s belief that competing with the larger breweries on price is unsustainable and that micro-breweries need to focus on marketing as a premium hand-crafted product, selling their story and engaging the whole supply chain. Working together with other Welsh breweries could also help improve supply chain efficiencies and improve profit margins.
Setting up a formal Welsh micro-brewing co-operative or even informal collective initiatives requires leadership, management and resources. It is an investment in sustainable operations and growth, such that the breweries need to buy-in and own it for long-term success.
Thank you to Brendan Moore for you hospitality, and everyone we visited. Thanks also to Drinks Cluster Wales for your support in organising the visit. All the photos from Tim’s visit can be viewed here.