Genius scheme keeps beer flowing through pandemic

A University of Exeter Business School student handed independent craft breweries a lifeline during lockdown by helping them tap into new online markets.

Quinn Leatherbarrow-Stokes, recently graduated in Business Management with Industrial Experience and spent lockdown launching his own business QWERTY Beer Box, which brings together craft beers from local brewers in regional ‘best of’ collections. There is even a Best of Devon collection in the range.

Small independent UK breweries have struggled during lockdown, with the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) reporting an average drop in sales of 82%.

The majority have difficulties selling their wares to non-locals – according to the SIBA, around three-quarters of small UK brewers sell less than 20% of their beer further than 40 miles away, making their tipples beyond the reach of the average drinker.

Left to right: Quinn Leatherbarrow-Stokes and Niki Porsch (Image: Quinn Leatherbarrow-Stokes)

Quinn said: “We wanted to reverse that trend by giving breweries an e-commerce functionality. One way of doing that is to get their beer into a tasting group of regional craft beers.”

His course at the University of Exeter Business School included a placement year, which he spent with the likes of Amazon developing expertise in e-commerce.

Quinn then found success through Amazon Campus Challenge, a student competition in which teams seek out new businesses and introduce them to the world of e-commerce.

Providing his hometown brewery in Stroud the ability to sell directly to customers online rather than just through pubs, Quinn helped prevent the small firm from going bust once lockdown hit. It gave him the confidence to start his own venture, which he launched while in his family home during lockdown.

Quinn said: “Originally all the beer would be kept in our cellar unpackaged, then when deliveries came through I would go down and get the right beers, package them and then cycle them to people’s houses. I did this for two-and-a-half weeks and ended up cycling 350km!”

“I spray-painted the first batches of boxes with our logo and write tasting notes, telling people about the breweries, about the beer, how to taste them and a little bit about QWERTY Beer Box.”

With demand higher than anticipated, Quinn realised he needed a better distribution method.

Using his experience working with Amazon, he was able to utilise their fulfilment centre network and user base to get national Amazon Prime next-day delivery service.

He feels the time is right to scale-up operations and has sought the help of friend and graduate Niki Porsch, to curate collections of craft beers from regions and cities across the UK.

Quinn said: “I think the time to do it is now. The breweries need support, there’s a recession so I’m chucking everything in there and hopefully we can get more authentic craft beers out to people in the UK because there is a clear demand for it.

“I want to take my experience and help these local breweries. I love craft beer and have relished the opportunity to build relationships with brewers, who are not getting the recognition they deserve because many of them they don’t have capacity or the expertise in e-commerce.

“We’re reaching out to these small independent craft beer providers and working with them to generate greater national recognition of their cracking beer.”

Devon Live