Why indy food businesses must start to work together

Working every hour God sends in glorious isolation is not a long-term solution for independent food and drink businesses. Instead they should take their heads out of the sand and try to form more partnerships with each other. And they should start by thinking creatively about pubs…

Think of a pub. What do you see? A landlord, a bar and a few folk drinking beer, I expect. But if you start to see a ‘pub’ as just a building containing various spaces that can be put to lots of different uses, it can spark new ideas and create new opportunities.

What on Earth am I on about?

Well, if your local was home to an independent charcuterie maker who worked in an outbuilding, and not only made delicious cured meats for the pub menu but also sold chorizo to go, wouldn’t that be great for you the customer, the pub, and the charcuterie maker? Or, if a baker put his business in a pub kitchen and baked amazing breads, tarts and cakes, wouldn’t that be another win-win? Both scenarios would add value to the pub, the food producer and the customer experience. A win-win-win.

As small, independent businesses, many of us would benefit from thinking creatively and forming new partnerships. We often operate in glorious isolation, working every hour possible to follow our vision, when teaming up with a partner would make both of us stronger. This is especially so for pubs. They need stories and unique features to attract new customers. They also often have under-used spaces like outbuildings and function rooms. And from a potential partner’s point of view, a pub has a ready-made customer base who visit to socialise, enjoy food and drink together and spend money. By linking up in creative ways it’s possible to inject new energy and momentum.

Everards Brewery, who own 175 pubs in the Midlands, certainly believe in this idea. They want to build more partnerships with more local independent businesses, particularly those in the food and drink sector.

Speaking at an industry event in Nottingham (the Morning Advertiser’s PMA500 Club) recently, Everards MD Stephen Gould said: “The word ‘pub’ is part of an old lexicon that comes with lots of preconceptions attached. We think it’s much more useful to see the ‘pubs’ we own as ‘buildings’ or ‘spaces’. We want to team up with passionate entrepreneurs to make best use of these spaces.”

BUSINESS - Picture for Business magazine... Stephen Gould, trade/managing director at Everards Brewery, in Fosse Park, Enderby, Leicester 0116 2014307 or 07801 610940 Reporter - Tom Pegden PICTURE WILL JOHNSTON

Stephen Gould, MD of Everards. PICTURE: WILL JOHNSTON

Two examples of how this has happened recently can be seen in Birmingham. Soul Food Project has partnered Everards to launch both The Church and Peel & Stone Bakery. Loaf Bakery has also teamed up with Everards to launch its high-street bakery and cookery school in Stirchley. The success of The Church, Peel & Stone and Loaf are exciting stories. They show what’s possible if you co-create as partners. The Church was previously a closed pub before Everards and Soul Food Project – working together – got their hands on it. Now it turns over more than £1 million a year. Peel & Stone Bakery was a railway arch before it opened. Loaf Bakery was a pool table supply shop.


Loaf Bakery, an ex-pool table supplies shop

Everards also want to move away from the traditional language of their industry – that of ‘me landlord, you tenant’. Stephen Gould sees this language – which comprises words like ‘rent review’, ‘the beer tie’ and ‘tenant’ – as a weight holding back creativity and progress.

“That language represents a transactional relationship,” he said. “Yes, legally speaking we are the ‘landlord’ of the properties we own, but we prefer to see the people we work with as our partners or customers.

“We’re seeking to build more trusted relationships all the time. We might be an independent, family-owned brewer, but we are 100% dependent on our partners and those we work with. More and more, we see ourselves not as pub owners and brewers, but as enablers of the independent business community.”

That’s an exciting idea for people with a passion to run their own businesses, be they brewers, bakers, foodies with entrepreneurial drive or pub operators. It’s also a transferrable idea. Could you link up with a fellow independent business – whether it’s Everards, a pub or someone else – to take your vision forward? Could you become stronger or more efficient by joining forces with a partner?

Food for thought? I hope so…

The author:

Matt lives in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. He is passionate about the independent food & drink sector and founded Great Food Club in 2010 after being inspired by local producers near his home town.