Innovation studio

Black Flag Brewery (ATI2)

Black Flag Brewery, a micro-brewery in the North Cornwall town of Perranporth, was established in 2013 by surf-loving brothers Nick and Benedict Sales. Having grown their craft beer business by supplying Cornish pubs, bars and restaurants, as well as opening up their taproom to thirsty visitors wanting to sample their brews on-site, the duo were hit hard when the first wave of the Pandemic forced them (and their customers) to close their doors.

“As a business, you want to do the right thing… But our rent doesn’t change and our business still has costs even when we are in lockdown. So financially it’s been really difficult” says Nick Sales, Co-Founder of Black Flag Brewery.

With successive lockdowns continuing to turn off their taps, causing their traditional sales and distribution channels to dry up, Black Flag realised that they would need to pivot their existing business strategy away from a reliance on wholesale distribution and increase sales to the end consumer if they were to survive the Covid storm.

To do so, they needed to invest in new machinery to package and preserve their beer, as well as build an online web shop and distribution service. However, all this change comes at a cost and at a time when cash isn’t flowing.

Like many businesses during these difficult times, Nick began scanning the business support landscape to explore the funding pathways available throughout Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly.

“We heard about Acceleration Through Innovation from another business they are supporting… we didn’t know it when we first registered with the programme, but we had worked with our Business Advisor before as he had a background in our industry – which was great” explains Nick.

“Our Business Advisor, Chris, was really helpful and always quick to get back to us” he adds.

With a desire to lower their environmental impact as a business and operate as sustainably as possible, Black Flag Brewery were keen to explore canned beer production which would allow the flexibility for their customers to purchase their beer as a takeaway product and online.

“The research support around sustainability and moving to organic has been really useful” he explains.

To support their innovation and growth strategy, ATI2 awarded Black Flag an innovation grant to help them install their very own micro-canning line, something which has dramatically enhanced the business.

 The financial support has been a lifeline to help with the purchasing of the canning machine, particularly in winter, a period which is always a tight couple of months for us and has been made even tighter with another lockdown” says Nick.

As a result of the investment, Black Flag Brewery are now able to reduce product losses and stock holding, whilst also improving product consistency, quality and control.

“Before we had the canning machine we had used mobile canning companies. But oxygen is bad for beer and we had had whole batches ruined in the process… it takes 2-3weeks to brew our beer and bringing it in-house gives us greater control, reduces costs and creates timing efficiencies as we aren’t waiting for someone else to can it” says Nick.

“Covid has slowed us down due to the financial restrictions which we now have as a business. But it’s also forced us to speed up other areas and progress with things that were always on the cards, but weren’t necessarily a priority at the time”, he adds.

Other such areas of progression include switching to using organic malts and the completion of the brewery’s new web shop, which is now live on their website for people to purchase their canned beer online.

Black Flag Brewery are hopeful that their takeaway service and online web sales will keep them afloat during lockdown, until some kind of normality resumes.

“Our focus now is to hopefully get back to normal” says Nick, adding that any businesses thinking about contacting the business support programme should “absolutely give them (ATI2) a call. We’ve found them really helpful”.