Vocation’s off-trade sales are steady at around £13.3m

Vocation Brewery is eyeing growth via impulse and convenience channels, having recently rebranded in a bid to boost plateauing off-trade sales.

The craft brewer’s CEO Gail Lumsden said a major focus of last month’s rebrand had been to make the Vocation brand “more distinctive and memorable”.

“When I first started telling people I was working with Vocation, often they would look at me quizzically,” she said. “When I said ‘we’re in the major grocers’ they didn’t recognise us. To my mind that was a failing of our brand.”

Vocation – stocked with retailers including Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and Sainsbury’s – saw off-trade sales stagnate over the past 12 months, bringing in an additional £137k on volumes down 5.1% [NIQ 52 w/e 24 April 2024]. 

Lumsden, who was made CEO at the Hebden Bridge-headquartered brewer in October 2023, having previously been a non-executive director, said craft beer was now a “mature market” that had consolidated “around a handful of well-known omnipresent brands”.

Despite this, Vocation still saw “masses of runway for growth in the off-trade by driving distribution, particularly in convenience and impulse”, Lumsden said.

“We’re continuing to grow with the grocers, but hoping to improve our reach in convenience and impulse where we’re currently under-represented and then drive rate of sale,” she said. “We believe there is plenty of headroom for growth. Craft beer is still only a relatively small proportion of total beer and indeed of total alcoholic beverages.”

She said Vocation was constantly evaluating its product offer, and would look to draw consumers from cider and RTD categories by bringing more beers like its Death By Cherries sour to market.

“We’re seeing a trend at the moment around fruit and fruit bias,” she said. “And that does compete with consumers that are drinking fruit flavoured ciders and RTDs. So it’s about taking share from there.”

To appeal to non-core craft beer drinkers, Vocation needed to focus on “educating consumers, giving them simple messages and cues to encourage trial”, Lumsden said.

“Some craft beer liquid can be quite polarising,” she said. “We want our beers to be flavourful and bold, but not gimmicks. We have to give consumers confidence that when they chose a Vocation beer they are making a great choice.”

Despite a number of small independent brewers going bust in the past 18 months, Vocation remained profitable and had “cash in our balance sheet”, Lumsden said.

“It has been tougher because market growth has been slower and there has been some compromise in consumer spending, but Vocation – both in terms of culture and ways of working – remains highly resilient,” she added.