Yuengling survived Prohibition and the Great Depression, so its leaders are ready to face the coronavirus challenge
One thing coronavirus hasn’t shut down is the public’s taste for beer, and Pottsville-based D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. is still brewing its selection of beers at its facilities and has kept its staff of 370 people employed.
“We’re hanging in there,” said Wendy Yuengling, the company’s chief administrative officer, in a phone interview. “It’s affecting everything differently, but we’ve been around for 190 years and have had our fair share of challenges, such as Prohibition and the Great Depression.
“This is another chapter,” she said. “It’s affecting the beer industry, and we’re adjusting operations to comply with (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines and keep our employees safe.”
Keeping the workforce together has been a priority since the pandemic began forcing many other businesses to shut down in March.
“We’ve been trying to keep a full workforce,” Wendy Yuengling said. “Some of the workers may be doing something different and not working as many hours. We haven’t laid anyone off, and we’re proud of that. We’ve got a great group of employees and we are grateful for their commitment to the company.”
What the current situation has changed is where the beer goes as bars and restaurants are shut down for sit-down customers across Pennsylvania and other states. Before the pandemic, the company’s on-premise sales were about 25-to-30% of its business, according to Wendy Yuengling. That number includes sports venues, which also have been shut down.
Off-premises sales, however, are up 20% and customers have been buying more cases than six- and 12-packs, Yuengling said.
“I don’t see that going away in the near future,” she said.
Production, she added, has been running close to normal at its two facilities in the Pottsville area and its other brewery in Tampa, Fla., which is benefiting from markets in the South beginning to open back up.
“We’re gearing up for our summer selling season after Memorial Day,” Yuengling said.
That includes commemorative cans of its Lager brand that raises money for the American Eagle Foundation.
She said that the core brands, including Lager, continue to be popular during the pandemic. Yuengling’s newest offering, Flight, an “upscale” light beer that has 2.6 grams of carbs, 95 calories and 4.2% alcohol by volume, was introduced in February to great fanfare.
“We were launching Flight when this happened,” Yuengling said. “Locally, we’re seeing it performing well, and it’s getting traction.
“The stability of core brands has been great. People are coming back to companies we know. We feel like we’re in a good position.”
The company has been staying in touch with customers through the pandemic via social media and other digital outlets.
Sheryl Yuengling, who graduated from culinary school, has teamed up with chef Kelsey Barnard Clark for several beer-related recipes. Other celebrities Yuengling has brought on as spokespeople include Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola and U.S. women’s soccer player Rose Lavelle.
“We’re staying close to consumers and tailoring messaging with COVID-19 responses,” Yuengling said.“We’re directing people to the website and donate to charitable groups.”
One of those groups the company has reached out to help is bar and restaurant workers who normally would be pouring its beer.
Yuengling is a founding donor of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association’s newly established Hospitality Assistance Response of Pennsylvania fund, or HARP, which supports hospitality workers, including restaurant staff, servers and bartenders, who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
Another organization is the Gary Sinise Foundation and its Emergency COVID-19 Combat Service campaign to assist individuals on the front lines fighting the coronavirus. Those donations will go toward providing grants to first responders within Yuengling’s 22-state footprint.
Those grants will assist in purchasing personal protective equipment and essential gear needed when answering COVID-19 service calls. Financial assistance is also available to health care professionals, service members, veterans, first responders, and their families who have been impacted by the coronavirus.
With all of the company’s activity during the pandemic, the goal is a smooth transition back to normalcy.
“We’ve very appreciative our employees getting us through this,” Yuengling said. “We’ve been around so long, and how we’ve survived is the loyalty of customers and people in community. We really appreciate it.”