Now in its 14th year, BeerFlex was setup by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) to get their members’ beers into pub chains and has proved a huge success, with around 101 million pints now having been sold.
Back in 2002 when the service was launched there were just 200 beers available through the service, a number that has now increased to over 3,500 thanks to the craft-brewing boom that the UK has seen in recent years. Nick Stafford, SIBA’s Operations Director, puts the success of the scheme down to a thirst amongst drinkers for local, quality beers, as opposed to mass-produced products.
“BeerFlex has been a hit with pub-companies as it allows them a simple, cost-effective way to gain access to a huge range of beers brewed within a short distance of their pubs, which means they can offer their customers genuinely local, fresh-tasting draught beers. On top of that, consumers are happy as they’re being given greater choice and brewers are happy as their beers are getting into pubs which were previously a closed door to small-scale producers.”
Whilst there are over 3,500 beers from across the UK available through BeerFlex the majority of pubs, bars and restaurants buy beer from breweries in their local area – infact SIBA figures show that around 70% of their brewing members sell the majority of their beer within a 40-mile radius of the brewery.
“Quality and provenance has become a huge factor in all food industries, but none more-so than beer. The craft brewing revolution has not only led drinkers to seek out more flavoursome, interesting beers like those made by independent craft brewers, but also beers that are from their local area. With over 850 SIBA breweries across the UK, everybody can have a pint of locally brewed beer, something we should be extremely proud of.” Mr Stafford added.
37 different pub companies have worked with SIBA over the years to sell beer from independent breweries in their pubs, including Punch Taverns, Enterprise Inns, Admiral Taverns, Thwaites, NewRiver Retail, and even the National Union of Students (NUS), who run students union bars across the UK.
Originally setup as the ‘Direct Delivery Scheme’ – which won the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Award for ‘Best Retail Initiative’ back in 2007 – BeerFlex has had much more than a name change since its launch in 2002, recently adapting to offer independent beer solutions to the restaurant, coffee shop and cafe trade following extensive SIBA research which highlighted a consumer demand for craft-brewed beers in these venues.
“The award recognised the unique facilitating role a not-for-profit organisation could achieve for the common good – brewers, licensees and drinkers. It was and still is a win-win scenario, but with the changing beer world there was a need for the service to evolve and be able to supply other sectors of the industry such as hotel, clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, off-licenses and even catering services. Our vision is to make independent craft-brewed available to those that want to drink it, no-matter the setting.” Said Nick Stafford.
What BeerFlex did that was so special was to connect the smallest of breweries with the biggest national pub companies spawned in the early 1990’s, building trust between potential “enemies” of small and mega businesses, SIBA has given all brewers a fair and reasonable chance of commercial success. Something that is hugely important to the not-for-profit organisation to this day,
“BeerFlex is at its heart about ensuring any retailer will always be able to serve beer from the independent breweries, as it is these brewers that are producing some of the UK’s most exciting beer. SIBA are hugely proud to have reached this 100 million pint milestone and hope the scheme will continue to connect beer drinkers with full-flavoured, independently-brewed craft beer, no matter what pub they’re visiting.”