Brewery boss prepares to launch new products into fast-moving beer market
PUBLISHED: 17:25 03 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:36 05 February 2019
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
The beer market is moving on apace, and John Hadingham, who took over the reins at Suffolk brewery St Peter’s in 2018, is aware that his business needs to keep one step ahead.
The firm, which is based in a set of redundant farm buildings alongside the beautiful moated St Peter’s Hall, was founded by brand supremo John Murphy in 1996.
It has always been ahead of the curve - it was a ‘craft brewer’ before the movement really took off, and has taken beer to new frontiers, with organic and zero alcohol products to serve a fast-changing market.
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It was John Murphy, author of Brandfather, and the man involved in the creation of brand names such as Hobnobs, Homebase, and Viagra, who decided to create a new international British beer brand sold in distinctive oval-based bottles – in essence becoming one of the original “craft” brewers.
Today, the company sells a host of products, including its St Peter’s Without range of zero alcohol beers, a range of stouts and porters, fruit beers, lagers, classics, and gluten-free beers.
Its newly-installed managing director John Hadingham, who took over the reins in October 2018 from Steve Magnall, who went on to join a family venture, Two Magpies bakery at Southwold, is aware that over the past decade, UK alcohol consumption has declined by 18%.
Today, one in five Britons is teetotal, and in general, the population is more health-aware, with 4.5m people taking part in Dry January in 2018, and 24% growth in the low and no-alcohol beer category.
“We have seen a 102% increase with our 0.0% abv ale, Without, over the last year. It now equates to 29% of our total output,” explains John, who was head of sales at Suffolk cider maker Aspall for 10 years before joining Australian brewer Little Creatures.
Ironically, while he now heads up a brewery, which employs 47 staff, including at the brewery’s pub in London, The Jerusalem Tavern at Clerkenwell, he is almost teetotal nowadays as a result of a health scare about four years ago.
“I had a health scare that forced me to stop drinking and I have never gone back to it, but I’m one of those who’s always searching for what can I drink,” he says.
“It stopped me drinking. I have the odd sample here to try the beer but, apart from new year’s eve, I can’t think of the last time I went to a pub and ordered a beer – when I do have one, I really enjoy it.”
He does test the beer, however, and is keen to build on the St Peter’s legacy, and develop new beers, as, having come into the business, he feels this deserves attention.
Developing new markets and new beers
“What I found was a very production-led business focusing on serving the customers it had. Really what I have come in it to do is to build up the business and find new customers and develop new beers, because the beer market is moving on apace.
“In essence what I’ll be doing is building on John Murphy’s legacy because St Peter’s led the way. It was all about ‘drink different’.
“That philosophy is more relevant than ever before - we have to meet the consumer trends and demands.”
He feels that as American pale ales, lagers and IPAs are leading the market at the moment, these are areas that the company needs to serve with a range of new ‘pale ale’ style alcoholic and zero alcohol products.
“We can build on unique heritage, but we need to build on the legacy of ‘drink different’. We are launching those at the end of February at an event called Craft Beer Rising at the old Trumans Brewery in London on February 21, 22, 23.
“There’s lots of reasons for doing it. We want to be pioneering. We were quite prescient in doing the zero per cent because that category is now booming. We have been ahead of the curve.”
Brexit will be one of the challenges the firm will have to grapple with, but it has already secured a four-year procurement deal with its Spanish bottle supplier to insulate it from some of the potential effects.
“There are certain things we have done and there are certain we can’t do that we would like to do. We have secured deals with our supply routes across Europe, so prices are set and contracts are agreed for a minimum of a year. We have just done those so we are secure through Brexit,” he says.
“What we can’t do however is build up stocks because there’s a short life on the products, and we can’t have stocks held up on stockpiles of ingredients. We have also taken the decision not to action any price increases with our customers.”
John, 49, who has a son, Jack, admits he has always been “very, very driven”, but his latest career move has brought him very close to home.
He comes from farming stock – his late father ran a dairy farm at Wortwell, just down the road from the brewery.
“It was all I wanted to do. I left the farm because it wasn’t viable for us to do,” he says.
He has three brothers, one of whom is his identical twin.
“We now lease the land out to another local farmer. The herd is long gone and my father, Neville, unfortunately died. He was my inspiration, and hopefully I’m Jack’s inspiration. He’s just turned 21.
“When I left school, if someone had said I’ll end up running a brewery I would have said: ‘No way.’ I’m very very proud to be here. It’s very much the pinnacle of my career as far as I’m concerned.”