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Interview: Welsh beermaker on operating the UK’s largest alcohol-free brewery and B Corp status

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

Drop Bear produces four non-alcoholic craft beers. Credit: Drop Bear Beer Co
Drop Bear produces four non-alcoholic craft beers. Credit: Drop Bear Beer Co

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Drop Bear Beer Co head of sales Simon Davies spoke to Food Manufacture about the brand's new brewery, B Corp status and plans for export growth.

Co-founded by Joelle and Sarah Drummond, non-alcoholic craft brewer Drop Bear has grown rapidly in a short period of time.

Inspired to start brewing out of their kitchen due to the absence of quality craft options in the non-alcoholic space, it became apparent to Joelle and Sarah that there was a market for what they started creating. In 2019, they began selling cans online and soon found success developing a keen following.

When the first period of Covid lockdown began, their e-commerce platform allowed the businesses to continue developing and placed Drop Bear in a strong position to move forward as restrictions eased. Davies joined the business in June 2021 and set about growing the brewer’s presence within retail and positioning the product for export.

We are now listed regionally with Tesco and Co-op and nationally with Ocado,” ​he told Food Manufacture at BlasCymru / TasteWales last month (October 2023).

“This initially started with single cans of beer, but in 2022 Ocado took on two of our four-packs (Tropical IPA and Yuzu Pale Ale). They performed incredibly well and have delivered three-times above the category average for growth.”

Because of the beer's impressive performance, Ocado decided to offer four packs of the New World Lager and Bonfire Stout, meaning that every SKU offered by Drop Bear is now available through the online retailer.

“Our conversion rate and purchase rate via e-commerce is also ahead of the category average by quite some margin​,” added Davies.

Drop Bear announced the purchase of its new brewery in Swansea late last month. The former premises of Welsh brewer Tomos Watkin, production at the 16,000 square foot site is due to begin within the next few weeks, while an official opening is planned for January 2024.

With the capacity to produce upwards of 25m cans in year, the brewery will also feature a tap room and has space for expansion.

We now have the UK’s largest non-alcoholic brewery with the capacity to produce bottled, canned, keg and cask beer on-site​,” Davies said.

We are at the very early stage of seeing alcohol-free beer in keg and cask, but we are well-positioned as we can fill these at the brewery whereas other producers have to go via a third party. We have huge head room for growth and we can continue to expand our capacity at the brewery​.”

Davies explained that the business funded the purchase after raising almost £2m in funding courtesy of private investors and crowdfunding, with the founder of insurance firm Admiral Group “investing heavily​”.

He saw the category as an opportunity, but more importantly bought into the vision that Joelle and Sarah have for Drop Bear​,” Davies added.

Drop Bear was one of more than 100 businesses exhibiting at BlasCymru / TasteWales, a bi-annual trade show held in Newport that showcases the Welsh food and drink industry.​ Reflecting on the event, Davies praised the role of the Welsh Government in supporting small businesses as they develop.

He explained: “Events like this give us the springboard to have immediate conversations with retailers and exporters that can really change the dial on our business performance – it has been really useful for us​.”

This support has been particularly valuable in the realm of exports, with Drop Bear taking advantage of the connections made possible by the Government-supported cluster networks. The brewer currently exports to New Zealand, Canada, Finland, Singapore and Hong Kong, and has hopes for further expansion in the near future.

The Welsh Government has been a really good point of reference for us and helped make key introductions to local advisors in different countries that have influenced our strategy​,” said Davies.

For example, the Spanish market is heavily saturated with alcohol-free beer and through these conversations we realised that there was less opportunity than had first appeared. The barriers to entry are quite significant in Spain but because of the support we receive, we are able to better understand different markets and save a lot of time​.”

With more than two years at the business, Davies was also keen to point to the central focus it places on sustainability, something exemplified by Drop Bear achieving B Corp certification.

One of the reasons I joined the business is because of the mission to brew the best 0.5% craft beer while also building a better world to drink it​,” he said.

We are one of nine B Corp brewers in the UK and the only B Corp brewery in Wales. We are also the world's first carbon neutral alcohol-free brewer and we work with Ecologi on a raft of gold standard carbon offsetting programmes all around the world. Even our t-shirts are recyclable – it is part of our DNA​.”

Looking ahead, Davies is bullish on the brewer’s prospects and believes it is “uniquely positioned​” to thrive.

He concluded: “No and low beer is a rapidly growing category, particularly within the craft beer sub-category. Meanwhile, our range is entirely gluten-free and vegan which puts us in a strong position to speak to retailers across the UK. Within five years we want to be in every multiple grocer and have a strong export channel​.”

Related topics NPD Drinks Packaging & Labelling

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