11 June 2020, 08:17 AM
  • Speciality Food caught up with Xavier Baker, co-founder of Isle of Wight Distillery to explore his experience of Covid-19
Isle of Wight Distillery: “I’ve noticed a real sense of togetherness”

In what ways has the pandemic affected your business?
With the on-trade hugely affected, it of course had a major knock-on effect on our business. Initially, this was very concerning, but the retail and online markets have really picked up - meaning we’ve had to rise to the challenge of new demands! We’re obviously pleased that pubs and restaurants will soon open and will do all we can to support our friends and colleagues in both the speciality sector and the on-trade. The latter is a showcase for our drinks, especially Mermaid, and this then ‘feeds’ demand for it in stores, farm shops and delis. Just getting pubs and bars opening will have a significant positive effect for our friends in those important sectors.

Have you innovated within your business as a result? If so, how?
We quickly turned our skills and expertise to producing hand sanitiser - ‘Wight Wash’. Initially, this was for our local NHS teams and key island organisations on a not-for-profit basis. Since then, it’s proved very popular and we’re now supplying it commercially, both locally and nationally.

Has your communication via socials etc. evolved to fit the current situation?
The situation required that we put real care and attention into any messaging. At different times, this has meant putting out videos with messages from the heart, ‘how to’ cocktail tutorials (intended to entertain) and developing a media strategy to drive online and retail sales and build brand awareness. It was important that we didn’t shrink away from supporting our stockists - part of that was also continuing with PR, which has given us a high profile nationally.

How have your customers responded - i.e. have you received more direct to consumer orders?
We’ve seen an massive uplift across online sales, both directly through us and via our online partners (one of whom has said Mermaid’s PR has brought in a significant number of new customers). More than ever with online, we’re also trying to improve the customer journey and experience.

Has your location affected your experience of Covid-19 in any way?
To be honest, being situated on an island has always presented logistical challenges!  This hasn’t really been altered by Covid in any significant way. Being rural and isolated has actually been something of a blessing in this period - we’re lucky to be able to work and enjoy the outdoors in a socially distanced, responsible way.

Have you experienced a new-found sense of community, either in the industry or with your customers?
We’re also lucky to be in a position where we are able to help the local community and have definitely noticed a real sense of togetherness. The island’s always had that, but it’s definitely been heightened. We’ve also found that customers want to support local businesses more than ever - and we do think that this is going to be a long-term thing. Our commitment to sustainability and removing plastic from packaging and processes also resonates - and will continue to, far into the future. Though our brand is available across five continents, it’s one with a real sense of place and purpose - which our customers understand and appreciate.