Cider Corner: Adjusting Business Strategies Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Like breweries and wineries​, a cidery like TinCap in Ohio​ is in the business of providing both a setting and beverages for socializing.

​”[We’re] set up for people to gather and socialize while they have a few drinks together​,” pointed out Jason Vaughan, the facility’s cidermaker and owner​. ​”We love seeing our taproom and patio filled with our patrons enjoying our ciders and the local craft beers while they listen to live music, play trivia, watch a big game, celebrate a birthday and so on.​”

So it’s tough times for sure and adjusting a business strategy can be daunting, but TinCap, located in Wilmington, Ohio — about halfway between Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio — has worked quickly to pivot to be a meal and beverage provider​ in its community.

​”We have changed our whole business model from in​-​house and distribution sales to just carryout options​,” Vaughn said.​ “Pizza, or restaurant service​,​ was never our upfront marketing plan but plans change.​”​

​TinCap has also been able to do pick​-​up orders of breakfast that ​Vaughn says they cook on ​a patio grill.

​”​We have to think out of the box continually​,” he said. “TinCap has been fortunate to have a food license in place before this outbreak, although we utilized food trucks for the majority of our open hours.​”​

As long as ​Seattle Cider can continue to ship packaged​ product to distributors, ​it will be able to remain open for the foreseeable future.

​The leadership team meets daily to discuss potential contingency plans so ​it will be ready for any necessary changes to the way ​it runs​ the business​, said PR & Marketing Manager Maura Hardman​.

​”​Since we have been deemed an “essential” business, our hope is to continue with the current plan in place until the Washington mandate to ​’​Stay Home, Stay Safe​’​ is lifted​,” she said.​

Both Seattle Cider and Two Beers Brewing have always been committed to giving back to ​its communities. ​Hardman said the facilities are currently donating a portion of all tasting room sales to the Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Rescue Fund. Additionally, ​they are hosting regular Virtual Happy Hours to connect with folks in outside markets​.

“Some of those will be based out of Chicago and we will be donating to Heisler Hospitality to help folks in our industry in the Chicago area during this difficult time​,” she said. “Overall, I’ve been incredibly grateful for the quick and nimble responses we have been able to enact to keep our business running and our staff employed, so it’s important that we also give back to those in need.​”​

Phillipe Bishop​ said ​Alpenfire​ has had to cut crew to about a ​third​ of the time they had before on the growing and production side and completely shut ​the tasting room down.

​”​It’s a little harder for us to adapt and adjust since our cider takes so long to make and everything we sell throughout the year is from the previous year and already packaged​,” he explained​. ​”Our goal is to try to look at different avenues for upping our online cider store​. We ship all over the country.​”​

​Along with​ “curbside” pick-ups at ​the orchard, ​(“…​where we do not have any curbs​,” Bishop quipped)​

​Alpenfire is also trying​ things like personal delivery to ​consumer’s doorstep​s.

“I live in Seattle and have offered up free delivery to anyone that wants it here with a ​six-bottle order,” Bishop said​. ​”​I don’t know if anything will work​,​ but ​it’s ​worth a try to keep some kind of income coming in.​”​

John Behrens, the owner of Farmhaus Cider and President of the Michigan Cider Association said his cidery has slowed everything down but they are still trying to keep things progressing forward.

“Future incoming materials we have, have also slowed down until we know more​,” he said, adding that this time is also being used as an opportunity to ​make repairs and process improvements.

​Vaugh would recommend to any brewery/winery that ​doesn’t​ have a food vendor’s license to talk to ​the local health department about getting a temporary permit.

​”​They usually are good for​ one​ week and do not require a commercial kitchen to obtain​,” he said.

This is just a suggestion as TinCap is not making a lot of income from the food, but it has been helpful.

​”​If you do this, take a moment to look at what you can offer and really pay attention to food and labor costs​,” he said.​ “It’s definitely not the same as in​-​house draft sales.

​”​The food option has had a positive increase in our growler sales. Many patrons are now buying a pizza or two with a couple growlers as well. We hope the sales continue.​”​

This ​pandemic has also made ​TinCap consider more in​-​house food options for when this is resolved.

​”​We have also used this time to plan future projects, and of course clean and organize​,” Vaughn said​.​ “We are planning our construction projects of ​an ​outdoor stage, kitchen/bar, patio extension.

​”​Although this would be a great time for us to start these projects, the uncertainty of future sales makes us hold on any expenses at this time. This time also is allowing us to be creative and come up with new ciders, cocktails, wines, and events. We are all in this together and we will all get through this!​”​

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