The Sobering Effect of Covid-19 on The Irish Whiskey Industry #CoronaVirus

The human side of Covid-19 is very real, I have elderly parents who I’m monitoring closely. This pandemic will result in human tragedy for many. The economic and business repercussions are also very calamitous. As the reality of our current situation evolves and sinks in I figured I’d shine a light on what this means for our particular bourgeoning industry from my perspective. I appreciate that all industries are in the same boat, but for us in Irish Whiskey it’s a unique situation.

We have so many new Indie players on the Irish Whiskey scene that this level of global disruption is quite precarious. When I say Indie I mean whiskey companies that are not partially or wholly owned by multinationals. Whilst the whole industry is going to suffer, the bigger strategically owned brands will live on well after this as they can mitigate risk and re-structure, for us smaller folks its live or die. Think of all those Irish Whiskey distillery projects out there in various stages of planning or fundraising what state is the money market going to be in at the end of this, building a distillery takes a lot of cash and running one takes even more. You need investors or sympathetic lenders…both tend to disappear in times of economic downturn.
For those of us who are up and running newer independent producers of Irish Whiskey Covid-19 from a business perspective this is a fearful time. Having spoken to several fellow Indie producers I can tell you the sentiment is shared amongst many of us. For us atJJ Corry 2020 was the year of market expansion, we had two very big and very expensive pre-paid export  trade shows lined up and were aggressively chasing new export markets in addition to working on significant expansion in our existing core market; the USA. Our growth plans this year depended on that.  Those things are not going to happen as planned. Our USA partner has shut the office and liquor stores in the USA are now closing doors. New export markets have gone quiet. So what is plan B?
Sales of whiskey have seasonal highs and lows and Irish Whiskey in particular sells best from September to March at which time it tapers off as folks in the USA turn to white spirits, rose and more recently spiked seltzers for the Summer. This is a cycle you can plan for and around year on year. This year there is no St. Patrick’s day, there are no whizzbang promotions and events and sales and sampling opportunities. For those Indies with a tourism play healthy bump in sales over the Summer helps to keep the lights on and to prepare for the Q4 sales push. Here is Clare we focus on capturing the Wild Atlantic Way Tourist crowd who love to “drink local.” This Summer is an uncertain one.
As its so early on, we don’t really know what or when the end is, but we do know that our business reality in 2020 has fundamentally changed. The early years of a whiskey business are harder that you can ever imagine. It’s a competitive and cash intensive business and making a profit for the first few years is not necessarily in the business plan. This does not make for good crisis planning or risk mitigation. My approach to this is to listen to Robert Frost who said “The only way out is through.” I was supposed to be traveling for 3 solid months expanding the business, instead I’m grounded in Ireland. So for the first time in a long time, I have time to sit and focus. I’ve re-written our strategic focus for the next few quarters and the year and we are as a team going to work our way through this so that when we are out the other we have a more efficient and operationally streamlined business that will weather whatever the economic climate is at the other side of this thing.

There are talk of business supports for SME’s  from state bodies which are not quite finalised yet. I’ve no doubt many in the industry will be availing of them for business continuity.

But if you are reading this, the best thing you can do for the Indie Irish Whiskey crowd, the folks you love or love to hate on social media is to keep buying, talking about and sharing their whiskies. This is what is going to keep us going and only this. I can’t stress that enough. We have an amazing community of dedicated folks in the #IrishWhiskeyFabric if ever there was a time to rally around them its now.
The online retailers are very much open and they’ll deliver to your door, there has to be an upside to self-isolation and perhaps trying some new Indie Irish Whiskies is one of them?   

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