Published May 26, 2020

Craft maltsters continue to be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, show results of a second industry survey conducted by the Craft Maltsters Guild. The non-profit trade organization represents the interests of small-batch, independent maltsters across North America and beyond. The results of the first survey are available here.

A total of 40 craft maltsters responded to the survey sent out in early May. The results showed sales are down for craft maltsters across the board with malthouses on average experiencing a 34% reduction in malt purchases.

“Many of our customers stopped or dramatically reduced production and that passed through to us,” says Joel Alex, founder and maltster of Blue Ox Malthouse in Lisbon Falls, ME. “We’ve seen production picking up again as brewers adjust to off-site sales and plan for a phased reopen.”

Alex noted strong customer relationships and his clientele’s strong commitment to keeping their supply chain local are a large part of his business’s ability to continue amid the public health crisis.

The decrease in malt demand has led some maltsters to cut back on production and make staffing changes in the form of layoffs or furloughs. The craft maltsters who responded to our survey stated they employed a collective of 151 workers before COVID-19, with 106 full-time and 45 part-time workers. At the time of the survey, maltsters had laid off approximately 17% of full-time and 40% of part-time employees.

Recent government support has helped some U.S. craft maltsters with nearly 72% of respondents stating they have already or plan to apply for federal or state small business relief programs. About a third of craft malthouses anticipate re-hiring some or all of their workers. Approximately half of the maltsters replied they hadn’t lain off any employees.

Looking ahead, 80% of malthouses believe they can sustain their business for 3 months or longer if social distancing and stay-at-home policies continue. Over half of the group project their business anticipates continuing for 6 months or longer and 35% of craft maltsters said they can continue operating their business for a year or longer.

“We believe we have a plan to outlast this as a company,” says Brian Estes, head of partnerships at LINC Malt, a craft maltster in Spokane Valley, WA positioned to ride out the COVID-19 for the long haul. “We are fortunate we’ve focused on using ‘patient’ capital in financing our enterprise and that our overall team has been willing to take on challenging staff realities.”

The goal of the survey was to gauge the continued effect the virus outbreak is having on the craft malt industry. The Guild will use the responses received to develop relevant resources and information to assist craft maltsters through the pandemic. A third survey is planned to be sent to Guild Member Malthouses again later this summer.

Visit the Guild’s Coronavirus Resource Center to learn more about our response to COVID-19 and to find resources on relief efforts and coping during the pandemic.