Artisanal Brewing Ventures Installs Air Purification System at Taprooms; Consumers Continuing to Return Cautiously to On-Premise Establishments

As it planned for eventual reopenings of its 11 own-premise locations, craft beverage rollup Artisanal Brewing Ventures surveyed consumers in April and found they wanted more than just the basics to combat the spread of COVID-19 inside taprooms.

Responses showed that consumers assume tables are sanitized and spaced appropriately, ABV chief marketing officer Derek Detenber told Brewbound. A common refrain was “I trust that you’re doing the minimum,” he said. But consumers were warier of fellow patrons than of the establishments’ practices.

So, ABV — whose brands include Victory Brewing, Southern Tier Brewing, Sixpoint Brewery and Bold Rock Hard Cider — is going a step farther and adding needlepoint bipolar ionization (NPBI) technology to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems at its nine indoor locations by the end of June.

“The more we can do, the better,” Detenber said.

Global Plasma Solutions (GPS), a Charlotte, North Carolina-based air purification technology company, where ABV is also headquartered, is installing the system. NPBI technology removes “airborne particulates, odors and pathogens” by emitting “high volume of ions that steal away hydrogen from the pathogens, driving them out of the air space, leaving clean, healthy indoor air,” ABV said in a press release.

According to a press release from GPS and Aviation Clean Air, which produces air purification systems for aircraft, a laboratory study performed in conditions designed to mimic the inside of an airplane found that NBPI technology deactivated SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by 99.4% after 30 minutes. Detenber declined to share the cost of the system, but said it was reasonable.

ABV operates three Southern Tier taprooms (Lakewood, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio), three Victory taprooms (Downington, Kennett Square, Parkesburg, all in Pennsylvania), two Bold Rock taprooms (Nellysford, Virginia; Mills River, North Carolina), two Bold Rock orchards (Charlottesville and Crozet, Virginia) and one multi-branded taproom in Charlotte.

At all locations, ABV has adopted single-use menus and pens and pared down its menus so that dishes require simpler preparation. These changes require “more labor to run food and keep people isolated within specific jobs,” so the company brought back furloughed taproom employees, Detenber said.

Systems such as the NPBI technology are a step beyond the three most popular responses in a Nielsen CGA survey that asked consumers what safety measures would encourage them to visit bars and restaurants again. The top responses were outdoor seating areas, masks and gloves for staff, and fewer tables and patrons, each selected by 43% of survey respondents.

Nielsen CGA, the market research firm’s on-premise arm, found that 81% of consumers who have visited a bar or restaurant in the past two weeks are satisfied with the health and safety precautions they’ve encountered. This is an increase over the 75% of consumers who were satisfied with what they saw in the previous two weeks.

For the survey, Nielsen CGA contacted 1,600 adults in Texas, New York, Florida and California between June 19-21; 36% of them have gone out for a meal in the past two weeks.

Nearly 80% of respondents said they are concerned about “the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 when visiting bars/restaurants.” Meanwhile, almost 90% are worried about the pandemic’s effect on the economy.

Younger respondents — adults ages 21-34 — are dining out about the same rate for the two weeks that ended June 19 (42%) as they were for the previous two weeks (43%). The 35-54 age group rate of dining out increased 6%, to 35% for the more recent period. Older respondents, age 55 and up, had the biggest increase of meals out — 33% — an 11% increase.

No states surveyed had declining rates of dining out, but the increases in California (+9%) and Florida (+10%) were larger than those in New York (+4%) and Texas (+2%).

In Texas, COVID-19 cases are spiking, and Gov. Greg Abbott has paused the state’s phased reopening. Lone Star State restaurants are permitted to open at 75% capacity and bars can be open at 50% capacity. Establishments will be allowed to stay open, but both capacity restraints will remain in place.

“The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses, ” Abbott said in a press release. “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business.”

Of the respondents who have returned to on-premise establishments, more of them are dining and drinking out more frequently. In the last two weeks, 43% of respondents have gone out on three or more occasions, Nielsen CGA reported. A little more than half (52%) told Nielsen CGA they’re spending about the same amount at bars and restaurants as they were before the pandemic; 18% are spending more and 29% are spending less. Meanwhile, 39% say they are tipping servers more.

The most popular alcoholic drink among respondents who have gone out is red wine (23%), followed by white wine (20%), vodka (19%) and whiskey (19%). Domestic non-craft beer is the fifth most popular drink, at 18%, with craft beer and imports close behind at 16% each. Just 9% of respondents said their visits to bars and restaurants included hard seltzers, which have consistently posted triple-digit increases in off-premise sales.

Still, 56% of respondents haven’t returned to on-premise establishments. More than half of those people (52%) said they don’t feel “safe being in close proximity with strangers,” and 49% said they need more time. Asked what will make them feel safe enough to return to on-premise establishments, a third of respondents said a vaccine or treatment, and a quarter said when the virus is gone.

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