Sales by Finnish microbreweries all but dried up when restaurants and bars were closed and public gatherings banned this past spring as measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and sales at retail outlets took a nosedive.
"Retailers did not have the time to focus their beer selection when people were hoarding toilet paper," says Kasper Toroska,CEO of Pori's Rocking Bear Brewers.
Toroska is a member of the board of the Finnish Microbreweries' Association. He estimates that since the state of emergency was imposed in March, retail sales of the nation's craft brewers fell by more than half.
Brewery outlets a lifeline
Luckily, sales at direct brewery outlets kept craft brewers afloat. More customers discovered the wares available from these small entrepreneurs and many said that they were keen to support local businesses.
"Sales at their own outlets grew by as much as a factor of ten," explains Toroska.
According to Toroska, the volume of sales of Finnish craft beers has taken off again in supermarkets. Restaurant sales, however, are still lagging behind even though some of the restrictions on bars and restaurants have been lifted.
"Luckily, people have got used to buying from the microbreweries' own outlets. That also means a rise in beer tourism," Toroska points out.
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Even temporary measures would help
Microbreweries are now hoping for passage of new legislation which would allow for direct deliveries to consumers. A new law to this effect has been proposed and if passed would be in effect up until the end of the year.
At present, the legal status of home deliveries is odd. Consumers can order beer for home delivery from abroad, but not from Finnish suppliers. Finland's craft brewers can accept orders from private individuals, but the customer has to personally pick up their order from the brewery.
"There would be demand all around Finland. However, we can't deliver, so we are in a different position than foreign suppliers," notes Toroska.
While direct home sales would give microbreweries a boost, local customers are of key importance to their success.
During this spring, loyalty to home town beers seems to have been critical to the survival of many microbreweries, although no hard data on the subject is yet available.
"Indeed, the role of local customers has been a tower of strength for microbreweries," says Mikko Mäkelä, who chairs the board of the Finnish Microbreweries' Association.
There are now more than one hundred craft breweries in Finland. Most of them are very small and very young ventures. According to Mäkelä, many are not well known even in their own communities.
Not all of them want to expand and grow, though. Many of these brewers have different measures of success.
"That is their strength," says Mäkelä.