Like much of the industry, BrewDog was faced with the biggest crisis it had ever experienced in March 2020.

Overnight, 70% of its revenue disappeared, as 105 of its locations around the world were closed.

“We didn’t know if there was a real pathway to survival for the business,” David McDowall, president and chief operating officer tells MCA. “Overnight the business plan for the year went into the bin, like many other businesses around the country and around the planet.”

McDowall was speaking before MCA’s Retailers’ Retailer Awards, as part of video coverage of the virtual event.

But it was how the craft beer brewer and bar operator reacted to the crisis which led to them winning the approval of their industry peers and the Evolution award last week.

The crisis reduced BrewDog’s business plan into two simple, though easier-said-than-done aims: finding a pathway for the business to survive, and protecting as many jobs as possible.

“Having moved from panic mode into action mode as quickly as we could, I think the biggest lesson we learned was that having an incredibly strong galvanising company culture and spirit led the team through this horrendous period,” McDowall says.

“We should never ever underestimate the capability of the 2000 incredible people in team BrewDog.”

The Scottish company rapidly shifted gears with a number of initiatives, and was one of the first to produce and distribute hand sanitizer to the NHS, and more recently offer its venues to be used for vaccination centres.

The brand upped its direct to consumer channels, distributing beer straight to people’s homes.

BrewDog also launched its fifth and final round of Equity for Punks, this time purely focussed on sustainability developments, including direct wind power for its breweries, CO2 recovery, electric vehicle fleets, and converting brewery waste into energy.

Focussing on the positives to come out the crisis, McDowall believes consumers are now more appreciative than ever of great hospitality experiences, having been deprived of them for so much of the last year.

“Hospitality has been through the mill, and I think it’s changed forever as a result of covid crisis,” he says.

“How that pans out in the next few years, I think we’ll all wait with bated breath to see. But one thing is for sure, what we’ve been through has taught consumers how important great hospitality experiences are to them.

“Hopefully if we can survive the next few months, we’ll see the continued vibrancy and diversity and innovation of our brilliant spirited hospitality sector come to the fore.”

Tipping the sector to bounce back, McDowall sees its ability to adapt to new conditions and innovate with new trends as key to its endurance.

One key trend he sees is the renewed connection between brands and consumers, which has been conversely been strengthened through localisation and digital channels.

“Consumers now realise that they are more connected to their local pub and restaurant in a more meaningful way,” he says.

“The operators that really win will be the ones that harness the power of those communities in the years ahead.”

Looking ahead, McDowall reckons 2021 will be “huge” for BrewDog, and is particular proud of its keen focus on sustainability.

“We think that as a business and as business leaders, we have an absolute responsibility to use our platform to create progress and awareness on the existential crisis that we face from a climate perspective,” he says.

A centrepiece of the company’s sustainability agenda will see BrewDog plant two-million trees in a dedicated forest over 10,000 acres of the Scottish Highlands.

Winning the Evolution will mean a lot to the business and the team, he adds.

“The progress that we make, the innovations we drive, and the tons of activity our teams deliver takes a lot of hard work, a lot of tenacity and a lot of talent and spirit, so it’s brilliant to see them recognised for that.”