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Resilient SMEs and entrepreneurs: evidence from the UK craft brewing sector

Nadine Waehning (University of York, Heslington, UK)
Gary Bosworth (Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK)
Ignazio Cabras (Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK)
Ekatarina Shakina (Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK)
Franziska Sohns (Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Article publication date: 8 February 2023

Issue publication date: 31 March 2023




The paper examines the sudden changes and challenges experienced by British craft breweries because of COVID-19. The purpose is twofold; firstly, to evaluate the overall growth trajectory of the craft brewing sector prior to the pandemic crisis and, secondly, to identify features of resilience and adaptability that aided business survival.


The authors conducted 24 interviews with a sample of craft brewers during 2020, supplemented with a focus group later in 2021, to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on their businesses. Inductive thematic analysis followed a flexible six-stage approach to generating codes. Qualitative findings were set in the context of the pre-COVID-19 industry trends which were analysed using panel data from the Society of Independent Brewers' (SIBA) Annual Surveys between 2015 and 2018.


Findings from the analysis reveal a range of factors influencing growth in the UK craft beer sector before the pandemic crisis, such as levels of investment and local network ties, and identify a range of strategies implemented by brewers in response to the crisis, including new packaging and supply channels, more intensive marketing and greater online engagement with customers. Analysis of the intersection between aspects of individual and organisational resilience also revealed that dynamic responses to an external crisis depend on individual resilience characteristics before organisational strategies can be developed.


The study provides fresh empirical evidence to practitioners and policymakers to help forecast and future-proof the UK craft beer sector, as well as elucidating aspects of resilience that apply to SMEs in the global industry who face similar challenges. Moving towards a post-COVID-19 economy, the paper offers important theoretical insights into how the resilience of breweries, and other SMEs, is shaped by complex interdependencies and networks and how their adaptive responses might strengthen future business models.



Waehning, N., Bosworth, G., Cabras, I., Shakina, E. and Sohns, F. (2023), "Resilient SMEs and entrepreneurs: evidence from the UK craft brewing sector", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 665-686.



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