Despite Central Oregon breweries closing down their taprooms for the better part of two months, many of them are weathering the coronavirus storm better than expected, thanks to strong sales at supermarkets and bottle shops.
Deschutes Brewery, Sunriver Brewing Co. and Worthy Brewing Co. are among the Central Oregon-based beer manufacturers that saw sales climb at off-site locations.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced bars and restaurants in Oregon to limit their alcohol sales to takeout only from mid-March to mid-May. Draft beer sales collapsed as a result of the closures, but beer drinkers nationwide shifted their focus to canned and bottled alcoholic beverages.
“Beer sales definitely increased by a significant percentage,” said Chris Oatman, a sales specialist for Third Street Beverage in Bend. “All Pacific Northwest breweries have seen sales increases.”
Newport Avenue Market in Bend boosted beer sales roughly 6% during the pandemic, according to Lauren Johnson, the grocery store’s CEO and president.
“It’s evident that people increase their overall alcohol consumption in tough financial times but even more so during a global pandemic,” said Johnson. “We continue to see folks lean toward local brands with a preference for lighter beers and collaborations.”
Johnson said top local sellers include Sweet As beer produced by GoodLife Brewing Co. and RPM IPA, made by Boneyard Beer.
That’s good news for breweries that saw their draft beer sales dry up when bars were forced to close. Boneyard’s draft beer sales, for example, plunged 97% compared to the same period a year ago, said Nick Murray, the company’s director of sales and marketing.
Can and bottle sales are helping to offset losses at the beer tap.
Sales of Deschutes Brewery beer at off-site locations — grocery stores, bottle shops, convenience stores, big box etc. — have seen double-digit increases, said Neal Stewart, vice president of sales and marketing for the Bend-based brewery.
Top sellers at Deschutes over the past month include Mirror Pond Pale Ale, 25% increase; Black Butte Porter, 9% increase; and Fresh Hazy IPA, 50% increase, Stewart said.
The boost in canned and bottled beer from stores has helped Deschutes offset losses at restaurants, pubs and bars, which typically make up a quarter of beer sales for the brewery.
Worthy’s off-site sales in Oregon increased 25.1% during the two month lockdown period, said Matt Kannow, the company’s director of sales.
“We adjusted as well as we could,” said Kannow. “On the sales side we organized our time to best suit the customer’s needs — I think it set up for a positive way forward — and we stayed safe in doing so.”
Overall beer sales in Oregon for the month of March rose slightly compared to February, according to data compiled by Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The closure of restaurants and bars only affected the final two weeks of that month.
Oregonians bought 77,513 barrels worth of beer in March, up from 70,660 barrels in February. Beer sales for the month of April will not be available until late June.
Ryan Duley, director of sales and marketing for Sunriver Brewing Co., said the demand for his beer at off-site locations has jumped 25% during the pandemic, but overall sales are down due to the pub closures.
More than half of Sunriver’s beer is packaged and sold in stores, and 45% is sold in bars and restaurants, said Duley.
Crux Fermentation Project, likewise, said sales increased during the pandemic but didn’t have specific numbers. The brewery is now focused on reopening its taproom in Bend and boosting draft beer sales.
“We’re doing our best to be adaptable, modifying our business model as we navigate these unprecedented times, and extremely grateful for the support of our community,” said Jason Randles, branding and marketing manager for Crux.
Silver Moon Brewing is also eager to ramp up sales at its taproom after the two-month closure, but the new seating arrangement to comply with social-distancing measures will be challenging, said co-owner James Watts.
The pub has seating now for 50 people compared to its normal capacity of 172. Revenue for the week it has been open is 62% of normal, said Watts.
Duley from Sunriver said distributors stocked up in March, but sales have since leveled off and there is uncertainty about what comes next.
“We are not brewing a whole bunch of draft beer right now because we are not certain yet that the sales will be there, and we don’t want to get into a situation where we have to dump our beer,” he said. “So we are taking it slowly.”