Czech courage: Historic beer industry bruised but pragmatic in pandemic
By Martin Divisek
Prague, Sep 29 (efe-epa).- The Czech Republic’s world famous beer has for centuries been one of the country’s major cultural attractions, an industry that flourished despite world wars, occupation by an invading army and decades of communism, all the while barely losing a drop in sales.
But all that has changed with the Covid-19 pandemic, which has severely dented Czech beer profits as restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the deadly disease, including the closure of bars and restaurants, have taken a heavy toll, brewers say.
Between March and June, when authorities imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, Czechia’s beer industry reported losses of almost five billion Czech Koruna ($215 million), the Czech Beer and Malt Association said last month.
TOURIST REVENUES DRY UP
The damage is particularly acute in the capital, Prague, which is one of Europe’s most popular city destinations.
“Clearly Prague’s hospitality scene has been the most impacted,” the managing director of the Budweiser Budvar, Petr Dvorák, tells EPA-EFE.
“Whereas the rest of the Czech Republic enjoyed a relatively good summer, especially in the traditional tourist regions, Prague significantly slowed down. And the fall predictions don’t offer much optimism either.”
U Fleku, a brewery in the center of Prague in operation since 1499, has suffered greatly during the pandemic.
With the normally bustling Czech capital devoid of its usual foreign tourists, the brewery’s main clientele, sales at U Fleku have been plummeting.
The brewery now only produces 15 percent of its regular volume, forcing the owner to dismiss half of his staff and lower his prices by 15 percent.
To compensate for the absence of tourists and in an attempt to make a splash during the annual Czech Beer Days festival, the brewery has for the first time in 177 years started offering a pale lager to appeal to local tastes instead of its “classic” dark brew.
ADJUSTING TO THE PANDEMIC
The industry is in dire need of a boost. During the lockdown, sales at Czech breweries dropped by CZK 1.1 billion, while suppliers recorded losses of CZK 165 million, according to the Czech Centre for Economic and Market Analyses (CETA).
With bars, restaurants and nightclubs closed and only permitted to offer takeaway orders during lockdown, beerlovers both in Czechia and further afield helped bridged the gap between brewer and imbiber, causing sales to supermarkets and online to soar.
“We can see a massive growth in our (online) sales,” Dvorák says, adding that “supermarkets and packaged beer sales compensated for the loss in draft beer sales,” at least in the case of the world famous Budweiser Budvar.
The biggest adjustment large-scale brewers were faced with was in the “structure of the sales” in terms of packaging; with bars and restaurants shut, barrels and kegs have been replaced with bottles and cans.
Although medical experts say that the pandemic is still in its early days, brewers with greater means of production appear to be weathering Covid-19 thanks to increased orders from individual beer lovers.
“Overall our sales were almost 2 percent above the last year in total at the end of August,” Dvorák admits.
TAPPING INTO CREATIVITY