Craft breweries have been the success story of the drinks industry over the last decade as consumers increasingly turn away from mass-produced brands in favour of distinctive, characterful, beers made by small producers.
The Eden Brewery in Penrith has been at the forefront of this trend but the business – now rebranded as the Eden River Brew Company – is far from complacent and ready to embark on the next stage of growth.
Jason Hill founded the business in 2011.
He said: “My background is in sales and marketing.
“I was working for Yell and the business was restructuring, which gave me an opportunity to do something else.
“I’d had an interest in home brewing so setting up a brewery seemed like a good opportunity.”
He sounded out potential customers and got interest from the Britannia Inn at Elterwater, near Ambleside, which agreed to take his beers.
Production began at a unit at Brougham Hall, near Penrith, and the brewery has never looked back. The first beer, Eden Best, a light, chestnut-coloured bitter, is still in production today.
Jason said: “We went from having one unit at Brougham to three, then in May last year we moved to Gilwilly Industrial Estate in Penrith.
“The new site gives us four times the space and close to three times the production capacity. We can produce 1,600 litres a day. Our output is typically 6,400 litres a week but we are aiming to increase that.”
The change of name to Eden River Brew Company is relatively recent, only taking effect last month. Colourmedia of Carlisle designed the rebrand.
Jason explained: “Eden Brewery is a traditional name. It’s fine for customers in Cumbria but outside the county it doesn’t really cut the mustard.
“Eden River Brew Company is more craft-oriented and will help us get greater brand recognition.
“We started the rebrand a few weeks ago and it has been well received.”
The business supplies draught cask-conditioned beers to pubs in Cumbria, and bottles and craft cans to retailers.
The draught and bottled beers are traditional and include First Emperor – a classic English India Pale Ale – Eden Fuggle and Eden Cracker.
The canned range is more avant-garde and features fruit beers in funky packaging designed by students from the University of Cumbria.
Retail customers include Booths, Cranstons, Cumbrian outlets of the Co-op, and the motorway service station operator Westmorland, for whom Eden River Brew Company produces own-brand beers.
Jason said: “We are currently talking to Morrisons and we hope to supply their supermarkets on a wider basis, not only in Cumbria.”
Eden River’s beers are also exported to France, Sweden, Japan and, since April this year, China.
“We worked with the Department for International Trade to identify potential export markets,” Jason said.
“I was keen to get a mix of easier markets on our doorstep and also, with an eye on Brexit, longer-range picks in emerging markets.
“What we found is that it’s no more difficult to export to Japan and China than it is to target retailers in the UK.
“At present less than 10% of our output is exported, but we’re looking to grow that, concentrating on China, which is potentially a huge market for us.”
Eden River Brew Company has had a long and productive relationship with the Chamber’s business support arm, Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
The business has benefited from one-to-one sessions with advisers, signposting to the Department for International Trade to begin its export journey, and grants for brewing equipment under the LEADER programme, which supports rural businesses looking to boost employment and growth.
Growth Hub adviser Adrian Luckham helped draw up the expression of interest for the latest grant application.
The business also worked with another Growth Hub adviser, Gail Gravett, to secure a flood recovery grant through following Storm Desmond in 2015 – the brewery wasn’t flooded but it was badly impacted by road closures caused by damage to bridges.
Now the brewery is working with Cumbria Manufacturing Service, which helps manufacturing SMEs to streamline their processes, drive up production capacity, innovate, improve business systems and access new markets.
Jason said: “We have reached a critical point in the growth of the business.
“We need a strategy to move into more formal roles and production methods. Further expansion of our customer base will be virtually impossible unless we incorporate recognised food and drink standards into our operation.”
Cumbria Manufacturing Service’s adviser, Alan Reid, worked with Eden River to develop a strategic business growth plan.
The brewery is now working with two consultants to improve processes and attain the Safe and Local Supplier Approval (SALSA) and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HCCP) accreditations.
Jason said: “We currently have three full-time staff and four or five part-timers as and when we need them.
“Once we have received these two accreditations, we anticipate a marked increase in sales, which will require us to employ two extra full-timers.”
He added: “Working with Cumbria Manufacturing Service has been a good experience. Alan has been very helpful to us.”
In his role as a Manufacturing Adviser, Alan visits clients to identify opportunities and barriers to growth.
He then sets out recommendations and identifies actions that will unlock growth and improve productivity and competitiveness. He also helps businesses to apply for grants towards the cost of further specialist advice.
Typically, projects are £10,000 in value and will attract a £3,000 grant.
The scope of projects eligible for support covers innovation, sales and marketing strategies, e-commerce, business systems, quality assurance, SALSA, operational efficiency and more.
To be eligible for support, businesses must meet European Regional Development Fund criteria. They must drive job creation, introduce new processes internally or new products to market, and so drive up productivity.
To find out more, and to book an appointment with Alan, contact Cumbria Business Growth Hub or call 0844 257 84 50.
Cumbria Manufacturing Service and Cumbria Business Growth Hub are business support initiatives part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The Growth Hub is receiving up to £2,528,767 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information click here.
Cumbria Manufacturing Service is receiving is £301,088 of ERDF funding.