Lineup of canned beers offered by Sycamore Brewing

Sycamore Brewing is pumpking the brakes on further market expansion while the Charlotte-based brewery longs for reopening its beer garden for the summer.

Sycamore Brewing Pauses Market Expansion Amid COVID-19

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There’s a distinct sense of FOMO happening at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Sycamore Brewing.

“It’s painful. This time of year in Charlotte, it’s absolutely beer garden weather,” Sycamore co-founder Justin Brigham said during a video interview. “I see these beautiful days of spring coming upon us, and I just kind of mourn for what our taproom numbers would be.”

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper will modify the state’s stay-at-home order with a new executive order slated for Friday, May 8th, but bars and restaurants will remain closed for on-premise service until the new order expires on May 22nd.

In pre-COVID times, Sycamore’s taproom sales accounted for 40% of the company’s business. With that loss, Brigham said his team quickly adjusted.

“We’re seeing package sales increases, like a lot of breweries, and we’ve tried to pivot as best we can with a delivery service and a pickup service and that’s going well,” he said.

Brigham estimated the brewery’s new delivery and to-go programs have made up about a quarter of the taproom sales lost. Due to those new revenue streams and a strong off-premise retail presence, Sycamore has retained all of its employees.

Sycamore distributes its products in three states: North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

“We were slated to go into our fourth the middle of March,” Sycamore vice president of sales Archie Gleason said. “Literally days after, the world kind of turned upside down for all of us, so that was put on hold and we’re trying to work through that now.”

The pandemic’s effect on the off-premise channel has been staggering. Gleason said that stores now ask reps to arrive at 4 AM or 5 AM to stock product before they open for early shopping hours for senior citizens. Instead of teams, just one or two people per wholesaler are permitted to help, so they can practice social distancing in the aisles.

Instead, directives from stores have become “you’re gonna have your gloves on, you’re gonna have your mask on, we’re gonna knock it out,” Gleason said.

Sycamore launched its BUBS Hard Seltzer line in January and had secured placements in spring resets at off-premise retailers, which have now mostly been postponed or canceled. However, Sycamore included all of its offerings on its home delivery and curbside pickup website: Sycamore’s family of beers, BUBS Hard Seltzer, Wild Blossom Cider and Beach Shack Coffee, as well as offerings from local artisanal food and beverage companies.

BUBS has become a top 10 product through home delivery and its engagement with consumers on social media has picked up, Brigham said.

“The energy behind that brand is growing quickly and that feels quite good,” he said.

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