Having launched in 2015 and just reached the 500-site landmark, Craft Union Pub Company plans to grow its estate at a similar pace in the coming years, operations director Frazer Grimbleby tells MCA.

The Stonegate Group-owned business, acquired in 2020, is also reinvesting in 50-60 sites within its core estate following double-digit sales growth, with the most recent group results demonstrating particularly strong trading from Craft Union.

It has been “a driving force in the recovery of Stonegate,” according to Grimbleby.

“We have been one of the fastest growing brands in the UK,” he says. “We’ve kept it simple and stuck to the knitting, enabling us to develop the business at pace and scale.

“We need to continue that with investment and expansion.”

While Craft Union has seen its neighbourhood locations thriving, it will continue to maintain a fairly even split between its neighbourhood and high street estate.

Both types of locations have been increasingly attracting a younger demographic. With more under-25s and students coming into high street sites as well as looking to stay local, premiumisation of the drinks range will be a key priority for the business.

“Segmentation, premiumisation, innovation, and a marketing strategy around engagement – that’s what’s evolving over the coming years,” Grimbleby adds. “We look to move with the times and modernise as necessary.”

“Late night tends to move more premium, so we just need to build that into our range. We’re investing efficiently and effectively.”

On a like-for-like basis, premium product sales are up 26% and have seen 15% volume growth, albeit the core draught range is also in growth.

“Premium is definitely overindexing…we’re also free from the complexity of working out what food trends are.”

While Craft Union has experimented with a food offer, its wet-led strategy has served the business well for its simplicity and value, according to Grimbleby.

Expansion will be across England and Wales, but the business is targeting areas with a younger demographic to the consumer it has traditionally focused on.

“We have a great database of 500 pubs to analyse and understand what works in different segments…the ratio will remain fairly balanced rather than tailoring to high street or neighbourhood only.”

While London was slower to recover post-pandemic, Craft Union’s 80-strong estate within the M25 is now “very buoyant” and ahead of other geographies in terms of growth.

“We’ve got a local community focus and people have been drawn back into their neighbourhoods,” Grimbleby says. “Our locations enable people to stay out a bit longer.”

“We trade in value community spaces. Community pervades everything we do.”