Not only did it see an increase in drinks sales over the last six months, but the rise in contract bottling enquiries suggests that small producers are thriving and that the drinks industry continues to attract new entrants.
Pershore College (part of WCG) in Worcestershire has been producing award-winning fruit juice and craft cider for nearly three decades using fruit from its own orchard and those of trusted local growers. What began as a student-led project now produces 7000 litres of craft cider a year and sells tens of thousands of bottles of fruit juice to independent retailers and the hospitality industry.
Commercial enterprises such as Pershore Press have become important contributors to college revenues and with college sites closing throughout lockdown, many of those enterprises were stopped in their tracks.
Fortunately for WCG, the opposite was true with Pershore Press. Sales of fruit juice and cider increase dramatically, but growing numbers of enquiries for small batch contract bottling suggests that lockdown has been a period of innovation for small producers.
Pershore Press Development Manager, Richard Toft said: “The demand we saw for our juice and cider from retail outlets was unexpected at first but driven by customers turning to local shops for produce, especially those willing to deliver. “Not only were these shops serving more customers, but customers were also willing to try a wider variety of local produce as alternatives to products or brands that they may have previously purchased elsewhere.”
Richard believes that the six-month shift in consumer buying habits has not only been behind an increase in sales, but has also contributed to an unusually high number of enquiries for the college’s contract bottling services.
He said: “In difficult economic times, people naturally innovate, and with the growth of the craft beer and cider movement, drink production remains an attractive option for growers and entrepreneurs.
“We experienced this ourselves by launching two artisan ciders during lockdown, and I don’t think we were alone in looking at developing new products. What we are seeing now suggests that other small producers have been equally busy during lockdown. “Because we specialise in small-batch cider bottling, we tend to see producers when they are at the start of their journey, or when they are developing and testing new products. With our ethos of helping people into the industry through sharing expertise and guidance, we’re a good fit for these producers.”
As with other local retailers and producers, the hope will be that the customer loyalty enjoyed throughout lockdown will be sustained and that those businesses that have adapted and innovated will continue to be rewarded.
Pershore Press is a commercial enterprise of Pershore College (part of WCG), and profits make a direct contribution to education in Warwickshire and Worcestershire.