Bright future for craft vinegar producer

More TV exposure, a new line of products, major international trade orders and a move into bigger premises…2021 is shaping up to be a busy year for the team at Orkney Craft Vinegar (OCV), despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The company recently featured on Channel 4’s Food Unwrapped programme, with presenter Matt Tebbutt seeking out the perfect accompaniment for fish and chips – and finding it right here in Orkney in the form of OCV’s Bere Malt Vinegar.

It follows a double hit of sales boosting TV exposure for OCV in 2019 from TV chef, James Martin, who is a huge fan of the brand.

“It was crazy after the broadcast on C4,” says OCV’s founder and head brewer, Sam Britten. “We’ve got a Shopify app and all the online sales come through that. It’s got a little world map and we could see dots pinging up all over the place representing sales. They’re still going on now as people watch the programme on demand.

Sam Britten from Orkney Craft Vinegar

“I think it rapidly gets your name out,” says Sam, reflecting on the enormous impact so much positive broadcast coverage has had for OCV since the business was created in 2017. “You’re not having to wait to grow steadily. It’s all been in-bound as well – we’ve not been chasing these things – and it’s always nice to be included.”

For a small artisan company though – OCV is currently composed of Sam, new part-time assistant brewer Chris Andrews, design and brand manager, Ross Sneddon and Mel Sinclair, who looks after marketing and sales – the demand generated by national TV appearances can outstrip production capacity and instantly deplete stocks of products. OCV vinegar sold out over two days following its first surprise appearance on James Martin’s Saturday Morning show in 2019.

Sales got a further boost when the TV chef again featured the vinegar on his Great British Adventure series later that year.

The current Orkney Craft Vinegar range

“We’re way more prepared for it this time as we got two weeks’ notice about the C4 programme,” says Sam. “The first time with James Martin on his Saturday show we didn’t know it was happening, so we had to disappoint a lot of customers when we sold out.”

The C4 appearance comes as OCV prepares to relocate from its current site in Kirkwall to what it hopes will be a permanent base in Stromness. The new larger premises will allow production to be expanded, with OCV planning to take on around ten more staff over the next couple of years.

A range of new products are also in the pipeline, with the first – a sugar kelp variety of kombucha (a type of healthy, fermented and carbonated tea) - set to hit the market shortly. As with all of OCV’s products, ingredients for the kombucha will be locally sourced.

“It’s a natural progression for us because we have the equipment to do it and because kombucha is essentially vinegar,” explains Sam. “It’s carbonated, a decent alternative to alcohol and has health benefits too.”

The new sugar kelp kombucha will be released in Orkney first, an approach OCV has taken with all of its products.

“We want to release it here first and get the local feedback because the community have always been so supportive,” says Sam. “The local market is also a great barometer for how products will be received elsewhere.”

In addition to the new kombucha, OCV is looking to create a range of new sauces and possibly beers, and is also developing its contract brewing capacity, creating vinegars for mainland based clients.

Of course, all of this success, expansion and development has been playing out against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

Foraging for ingredients on Orkney's shoreline

“Demand did drop off a lot with restaurants but they’re coming back in now and a lot of chefs are interested again,” says Sam. “Retail sales have been steady during the pandemic, but it’s always quite hard for us to gauge as in the past it’s gone from really slow to 100 miles an hour with the TV coverage!”

The company has also secured its first big international trade order with a Canadian importer, who contacted OCV following this year’s Scottish Food and Drinks Show, staged online.

“We’ve got lucky with the product and maybe the appetite for it,” adds Sam, somewhat modestly. “I think we’ll get more and more competition over the years - if you look at the USA at the moment, for example, craft vinegar and kombucha are massive businesses – but I just want our product to get better. That’s what I’m always striving for.”

Find out more on the Orkney Craft Vinegar website. Newsletter

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