July/August/September 2020

Lifting your spirits in a crisis

The hospitality sector has all but closed over the pandemic with very little confidence about what the near future holds. In an effort to keep livelihoods going, many suppliers to the sector have shifted perspective to alternative activity to ensure their businesses survive. GM Business Connect caught up with Steve Frehley and Mike Robinson from Jeffrey’s Tonic, who until recently were stockists of cordials and tonic syrups to the sector:

Please tell us what you do?
“We make a range which includes a Classic Premium Indian Tonic Syrup and some delicious Handcrafted Cordials, using natural ingredients.”

How did you feel when you heard that all restaurants and bars had to close in March?
“It didn’t sink in straight away. There was a dawning realisation that everything had just stopped. We couldn’t communicate to customers new or existing, it was awful to think about all of these businesses coming to an instant halt like that. Very quickly we switched focus to online retail, marketing and working on things we needed to improve on.”

Did you think the business would have to hold production? How did you react to the problem – and did you take any advice?
“Currently, we make our drinks using the NowFood facility at Chester University, so we were forced to hold production anyway due to the lockdown. We are fortunate to have an online shop as well as existing retail customers; we realised quickly that we needed to focus on that and to throw ourselves into promoting the website via social media. We have been receiving much more in the way of online orders (via our website and Amazon) since the lockdown began. Booths also took the opportunity to review their drinks range. The government stepping-up to provide financial support has been a big help and we have taken advantage of that. At the same time, we looked at our fixed costs and reduced those where we could.

“We were impressed and thankful to the local business community for how quickly advice and help was provided, including on-line networking sessions, such as your ConnectWorking events for example. These were and are important, not just for prospecting during this period of time, but for support and advice. We should also mention the Chester Business Growth Hub team – they were very quick to respond and to offer advice where they could. The business community made us feel reassured that we would deal with the crisis and work through it.”

L-R Mike Robinson, Maureen Robinson, Steve Frehley

What did you do to promote your products online, and how are sales to date?
“As the weeks have rolled on, we have seen a significant increase in direct orders. It has been a strange time. Our forecast for the year ahead was significantly focused on the hospitality sector, but we’ve had to change tack. People were turning to online shopping, so we needed to communicate directly with our potential consumers, with a lot of promotion on social media platforms and reaching out to potential retail customers. We’ve just gained listings in Booths, which is really significant for us as our first major retailer. Sales figures are slightly down, but costs have been significantly reduced and the major retail listings give us a real sense of optimism. It’s been brilliant to see how many people re-order regularly via our website. We may just be on our way to becoming ‘a thing’!”

When the restaurants and bars reopen will you be calling your prospects straight away or will you step back and let the businesses adjust first?
“This is a tough question. Those that do intend to open will need stock. Whether they want to introduce new lines is more difficult to predict. A number of wholesalers intended to list Jeffrey’s before lockdown. If and when that happens, it will for sure help when it comes to reminding businesses that we are still here and available with the same great products.”

Where would you like to see Jeffrey’s in 5 years’ time?
“In significant restaurant and hotel chains, high-end retailers across all of the UK and in other countries.”

What advice would you give anyone looking to start a beverage business today?
“Contacts are key. Have someone in your team with a lot of experience in the drinks business, and connections. Make sure that whatever you are providing is better than your competitors and shout about it. Getting in front of the consumer and driving awareness is key, so do plenty of markets and events. It’s much harder than you think. If you have great products, though, have faith and back yourself. Learn from your mistakes and do not give in!”

Where can people purchase your products?
“Direct from our website – www.jeffreystonic.com, Booths Supermarkets, Amazon, Master of Malt and OCADO.”