BrewDog swung into the red last year as booming sales of its craft beers online during Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns failed to offset the impact of bar closures.
The Aberdeenshire-based company sank to a £13.1m pre-tax loss in 2020.
This was despite reporting revenues of £238m for the year, 10% higher than in 2019.
BrewDog’s co-founder James Watt called the revenue increase during the year “the most significant achievement in our short history” for the firm, founded in 2007, and backed by 130,000 small shareholders, with its beer now stocked in bars and supermarkets.
After the pandemic closed hospitality venues around much of the globe, BrewDog switched to selling its beers through its online shop. Thirsty customers pushed its e-commerce revenues up by 900% compared with 2019, as it shipped 750,000 orders in 12 months.
BrewDog called its online shop “one of the most important divisions of our entire global operation” during 2020, and has further rolled out its e-commerce platform to Europe, the US and Australia.
Before the pandemic took hold, the brewer had expected to make 40% of its revenue from more than 100 bars, located around the world, from Sheffield to Shanghai and Berlin to Brisbane.
BrewDog, which employs 1,600 people globally, said the pandemic had not dented its plans to continue opening more venues. It is working on 30 new locations – including bars and hotels – in cities such as Manchester, Mumbai and Milan.
The firm, which switched to making hand sanitiser at its Aberdeenshire distillery in the early weeks of the pandemic, said it had produced 12,000 bottles for the NHS.
Watt called 2020 “without a doubt the toughest year in our 13-year history”. He said the company’s team “galvanised in the fire and adversity of the last nine months, is also stronger than it has ever been”.
That comes only weeks after BrewDog apologised to former employees who accused Watt and the company in an open letter of fostering a “culture of fear” in which workers were bullied and “treated like objects”.
In the open letter, circulated on Twitter, 61 former workers alleged that the Scottish brewer’s dizzyingly rapid growth had involved cutting corners on health and safety, and creating a “toxic” culture that left staff suffering from mental illness.
Watt released an update earlier this month on the company’s response to the claims by the group calling themselves Punks with Purpose. He said the firm has launched an independent review of the culture within BrewDog, has sent out an anonymous staff survey and has committed to creating an employee representative group.
BrewDog said a structural review showed the business was “under-resourced in certain areas” after the growth in beer volumes and is hiring about 100 new staff.