St Austell Brewery has plunged to a loss of £10m in the first half of 2020, despite record supermarket sales during the coronavirus pandemic.

Total turnover collapsed by 90% when all 178 of its pubs and hotels were forced to close in March as the country went into lockdown.

The brewer has since returned to profitability after its estate reopened in July, with help from a temporary cut in VAT and the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. However, profits have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to accounts at Companies House.

MD of beer and brands Andrew Turner, who joined St Austell in February from Heineken as MD of beer and brands, told The Grocer despite the first-half loss, the business saw a record increase in demand for its packaged brands, particularly Tribute and Proper Job.

During lockdown, St Austell delivered 3.1 million bottles into the off-trade market, launched a new Proper Job can four-pack and recorded sales growth of more than 1,000% at its online brewery shop.“But the reality is that the huge upsides gained in the off-trade do not offset the volumes lost in the on-trade,” Turner said.

“Now that we’re heading into a second lockdown, our production teams at St Austell Brewery and Bath Ales will be working around the clock, brewing, bottling and distributing our fantastic beers and keeping them readily available for our customers, in shops and supermarkets across the country.”

St Austell registered another year of record sales in the 52 weeks to 28 December 2019, with turnover up 5.6% to £189.6m.

Operating profits at the brewery were flat at £13m, with pre-tax profits down 3.5% to £10.6m, as margins came under pressure from rises in labour and distribution costs. Underlying EBITDA was up 2.5% to £19.6m in the year.

St Austell launched several new brands and formats in supermarkets during the year, including launching Bath Ales brands in cans nationwide in Tesco, helping drive off-trade volumes up 12%.

“Our core beers were also able to capitalise on wider trends in the market, including the growing consumer preference for premium brands that offer authenticity,” Turner added.

New group CEO Kevin Georgel, who took over from James Staughton in January 2020, said the coronavirus pandemic had been “a major challenge” for the business.

“Our initial priority was to preserve cash and ensure the survival of the company,” he said.

“I believe the decisive actions we took have achieved this objective. We are now focused on implementing our plans to ensure we recover strongly, rebuild our profitability and return to our longer-term strategy.”