From Cornwall to Russia: The St Austell story

James Staughton

Business Leader recently sat down and interviewed James Staughton the Chief Executive of St Austell Brewery, where he discussed the company’s growth, the recent Queen’s Award and plans for the future.

James is in charge of co-ordinating all the day-to-day operations across the different departments that the company has and is very proud of the company’s stature in the South West.

What is behind the company’s growth?

We have grown to around 180 pubs across the country and our trade business delivers across the South West to about 4500 accounts. We have grown to have several breweries – not just the one in St Austell. We also brew at Hare Brewery in Warmley, between Bristol and Bath. The company has also made a huge investment in the new brewery that has just opened there this month. St Austell sells its beers both nationally and internationally – in both supermarkets and in bars across the country.

Was it difficult to move into international sales?

Yes, it was something we were very wary of, and something we did not put too many resources into – we were very careful, as it is very easy for that to make a loss. The loss can also be caused by all the travelling that it entails. We have an agent working on our behalf, who has huge experience in that sector and type of business. It means we can run our international sales very efficiently and to cut out an element of the risk that is attached to it. There is a huge opportunity in the beer market and the prize is huge if we can get it right – especially in places likes China.

What countries have you done well in so far?

Even though we are not yet in China – we have done well so far. We are currently doing very well in Russia. More recently, we have done well in France, Denmark and Ireland. It seems proper Job is the most popular bottle conditioned beer in France right now. Those are the predominant markets so far, but overall we are selling in 22 different countries. We are looking to grow into many more. Even though it is a small percentage of our overall trade, we do see export as having huge a potential opportunity in the future.

You recently received a Queen’s Award – what does that mean to the company?

I have to give a huge thank you to everyone across the company, as we have been very fortunate to win awards for all areas of the company – whether it is in our pubs or breweries. Winning a Queen’s Award is not only prestigious and very honourable in its own right, but it really covers everybody involved across the business in the South West. It is something that is very rewarding for us and I am very exited for everyone at St Austell Brewery.

Can you give me an overview of your award-winning apprenticeship program?

That is something that is ongoing and something that we encourage all our managers to get involved in. They take in an apprentice at whatever the job role may be – we have complete flexibility over that. Also, we have roles within the company which facilitate an apprentice to join us. Clearly, we are a very people-centric business and nurturing the talents of the future is crucial for us in our ongoing business – apprenticeships are something we are putting a real focus behind and we currently have around 50 apprenticeships across the business in construction, engineering, hospitality and business roles to name a few.

St Austell has a focus around reducing water consumption – is being more eco-friendly important to the business?

Yes, absolutely! In the year 2000, it took 13 pints of water to make one pint of beer – that is the whole process, including the waste water and the cleaning process. Now, through innovation and implementing new initiatives in the business, that is down to three pints of water. That is a lot more efficient process and something we have worked on over the years.

What other eco-friendly initiatives are St Austell doing?

We are using renewable energy sources, like solar panels both here at Head Office and at our main Cornish Distribution Centre in St Columb, where we went grid free for at least half of last year. We use local companies whenever we can – we have a local produce policy. Whether that is food or dealing with our waste management – this means that all of our waste is recycled and does not go into landfill. We are part of the Cornish Barley Initiative, so we get our barley locally, from local farmers. That has been a great success. It has all been about supporting our local communities, who have supported our business. It is all about keeping everything in the South West where we can. That also ensures road miles are kept to a minimum.

Will you continue to support local businesses going forward?

Absolutely! We are very lucky in Cornwall and Devon where the reputation for food and drink produced locally has just grown enormously over recent times and has become nationally renowned for quality. We reflect this on our menus and in our pubs and hotels.

With regards to your acquisition of Bath Ales in 2016 – are there any other plans for acquisitions?

No – that one was exceptional and a big strategic move for us to have a presence in what we regard as a gateway into the Bristol and Bath region. We were very proud to bring them into the wider family. However, our ongoing acquisitions will continue to be in new pubs – that is the way in which the business is built. We will continue to maintain that for the future.

Has recent technology changed the industry?

Yes. If you take beer production and quality, it gives products a lot more consistency using improved brewing processes. Not only are we saving through new initiatives and equipment, but we are helping the environment and improving the consistency of the product. With the increase in technology, our processes will improve all the time.

Any immediate plans for the company?

The opening of our new brewery – Hare Brewery – took place this month and we are very excited to be bringing that on-stream as a brand-new brewery. One of the best aspects of it is that it boasts the latest technology accompanied by the very latest developments in sustainability, which goes a long way towards helping to futureproof the business.