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The Light at the End of the Covid Tunnel

I’m fortunate enough to have a very smart and determined partner. She’s managed to figure out how to schedule vaccination appointments for others and has done so for extended family and friends over the past week or so. The trick is the timing; several entities are opening up their appointments late at night - and only for one day at a time. They calculate the number of people that have to come back for a second dose, the number of available shots at each location, and then whatever appointments remain for the available shots go up for grabs.

The trick is that you don’t know which locations will have available appointments, so it’s a battle to find a location that has appointments, hope that it’s close enough for the person to travel to and that you can get all the requested information in before the appointment is given to someone else. Last night, she was able to make three appointments in the ten minute window when appointments were available.

I know this has nothing to do with Cider, but there’s a point. That point is hope.

It may be difficult to see when we’re staring at a foot or more of melting snow and still being very cautious about our daily interactions, but there is hope. This hope is that vaccinations will allow American society to return to something familiar. Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard this all before and maybe you’re getting sick of it. Heck, if you’re in Texas, you’re more likely worried about whether your water is safe and hopefully that’s the greatest of your concerns. Here’s what you may not realize.

Regardless of how you feel about the vaccine, people are getting vaccinated. By mid-March, approximately 20% of the US population will be fully vaccinated. Through February 23, approximately 65 million people have either received one or both vaccine shots. (That link will take you to NBC’s tracker that’s updated daily and breaks down vaccinations by state.)

But the rate of available doses is accelerating. The sheer number of available vaccines will make that late-night preamble above a distant memory in a matter of weeks. Based on the number of doses each manufacturer is expecting to deliver nationwide, combined with the anticipated one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it’s reasonable to project that half the country will be vaccinated by Memorial Day.

I know what you’re thinking, “That’s fantastic, John. What the heck does that mean for my business?” Ah-ha. Here’s why this is all significant.

Once vaccinated, those folks that have been particularly cautious - especially those folks that have been particularly cautious - are going to be desperate to get away from the walls they’ve been staring at for the past year plus. They are going to re-enter social society with money to burn because they haven’t been spending it nearly as much as they had been previously. People have lost time and many will be hellbent on making up for it. Belated celebrations will become the focus of many a night out. Those bars and restaurants that have survived will be selling alcohol at an increased rate.

Now is the time to plan for how you can make the most of this for your business. Plan to welcome back old friends (buyers) and build relationships with new ones. They will be thrilled to see you simply because they’re not looking at you on a video screen or talking to you on a phone. And you need to plan for it because if you don’t, someone else will. A lack of planning will mean those buyers, bartenders and wait staff recommending someone else’s cider instead of yours. Or maybe they’ll be recommending hard kombucha or a pet-nat wine or a hard seltzer or the latest CBD beverage or the brewery down the street that happened to make a cider. The number of inputs - the thousands of producers and distributors vying for their attention - is going to be high. Yes, thousands, compacted by the reduced number of available outlets for product.

The light at the end of the Covid tunnel is the pendulum swinging back towards on-premise sales. Calling it a pendulum is probably a misnomer. I think the initial shift will be pretty rapid and over time it will settle back down towards the on-premise/off-premise mix your business was at previously. I expect it will vary by area and hit some markets before others. I think the weather will also play a factor, as some folks will want to keep their celebrations outside.

This also means that your off-premise sales will tail off. How much it will tail off will really depend on a number of factors, but planning for that now will help you avoid having to push package into the market towards the end of the year.

Keep an eye out for this light. It will smack down like a lost gambler going double-or-nothing with their last ten bucks. And it’ll be here before you know it.

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