Business as Unusual: Selling drinks without pubs

Freestar founders
Image from Freestar
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
24 June 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has been impacting business in different ways, and founders have had to pivot to adapt and survive in an ever-changing environment. 

In our Business as Unusual series, we’ve been speaking to companies supported by Virgin StartUp to explore the impact of coronavirus on small businesses and entrepreneurs. 

We spoke to Charlie Crawley, co-founder of alcohol-free beer brand Freestar, to find out more about how the pandemic has affected the business.

How has your business been affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

It's been a huge change. We've had over half of our revenue disappear overnight with the closure of bars, restaurants and pubs. There's been this big pivot towards online.

Freestar alcohol free beers
Image from Freestar

Online was always an interesting channel for us both in terms of brand building and sales. Because we're really trying to embody the generational shift and mentality in drinking preferences and really be for the younger consumer predominantly. Obviously for those consumers, digital is an essential part of everything that they do. It's how they discover brands, how they interact with people and it also influences their purchasing behaviour.

For us, it's been good in a way because we've really had to focus on the online side of our business and building Freestar in that world. We had a lot of festival contracts lined up for the summer, we had a lot of activations planned which we haven't been able to do in real life but we're excited because we should be able to do some really innovative things in a new way. It's forced us to pivot and given us some time for reflection and to do some of the deeper dive work that we don't normally have time for.

Have you done anything new during this time?

Something that we've not really actively publicised is the NHS discount that we've introduced. We've been in awe of the frontline workers throughout the pandemic and the sacrifices they've been making so we wanted to do something that meant a great deal from us. We wanted to do something that was lasting and not just spur of the moment. Our way of doing that is to offer anyone that is an NHS worker and wants to buy Freestar beer this year can do that and we'll give them a 50% discount for life. We didn't want it to just be a one month or three month thing, we wanted it to be something that was long-lasting.

Man sitting crossed legged with a can of Freestar
Image from Freestar

How do you expect business to be different in the future?

Our way of thinking about that is this acceleration to working remotely and to online. Those are the two big things, in terms of the way people work but also in terms of how they interact with brands and with each other. The world is becoming more decentralised, it's becoming more digital and we as a brand really need to be hyper-relevant. We need to exist in a deep and meaningful way online. Our brand world needs to embody that change.

We have so much to say as a brand and we have so much to get across as a brand and we need to always be doing that in a digitally relevant way. We need to build in these layers of meaning and relevance to consumers. 

I think that the world will be very different. The way in which we work is going to change forever, I think. And the impact that will have on the way in which we communicate and people's commutes and the time that they have in the day and all these knock-on effects will be really interesting.

Read more about how businesses are adapting to the coronavirus pandemic in our Business as Unusual series: