Business as Unusual: Exporting in a pandemic

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. 

Andy Deeley and Emily Fitch-Deeley co-founded Fitch Brew in 2017. They make cold brew coffee and tea drinks, supplying them to bars and restaurants.

Fitch Brew founders Andy and Emily

Andy never expected to be launching exports to the US in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. He said: “I’ve been working on this opportunity for the past 12 months. We’re working with one of the largest distributors in the US and we’re going live in July.

“It’s a strange time and it has been delayed slightly by COVID-19 but we’re really excited about the opportunity.”

Given their ties with the hospitality industry, Fitch Brew has been impacted significantly by the coronavirus pandemic. “The revenue we did get is no longer there because none of these places are open,” Andy said. “It’s been really challenging. We’ve had to focus on online sales and we’ve diversified our product portfolio to include things like coffee beans and subscriptions.”

Fitch Brew

Andy’s decision to launch in the US this year could help boost their sales. “We’ve been working with a sales agent in the US and the feedback we’ve had on the samples we’ve sent to buyers has been really positive,” he said. “They get it and they understand what we’re trying to do. They’re really excited about taking a UK brand and putting it on the shelves in the US. It’s a really great opportunity for us as a company, and if things go to plan it will probably increase our revenue by three or four times.”

It’s a big if, but Andy’s determined to make it work. “The US opportunity is going to be by far the biggest thing we’ve ever done so we really have to prioritise that,” he said. “We never thought we’d be in this position so it’s a total ‘pinch me’ moment.”

The ‘new normal’

Back in the UK, Andy is prepared for it to take time to return to business as usual. “I think the hospitality industry is going to look different. There’s going to be some hesitation from people about sitting in crowded bars and restaurants,” he said. 

“I think there’s going to be some fundamental things that will change due to social distancing. By default the number of people in bars and restaurants will have fallen by about half. It’s definitely going to be a slower return to normality in that sector.”

Fitch Brew founders Andy and Emily

To combat this, Fitch Brew is planning to continue driving and investing in their online presence. “There’s a whole world out there with marketing and targeted ads, which we really haven’t tapped into enough and that’s something we’ll have to do,” Andy said.

But for now, Andy’s focus is on success in the US.

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

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