MADRID – Spain is the country with the most bars and restaurants per person in the world. There is one bar for every 175 inhabitants. Bars and beer are so closely intertwined with Spanish life. And as such, a major brewer is putting its profits into keeping these catering businesses afloat.
They had a hard time over the past year and a half. There were lots of restrictive measures that were taken to contain the spread of the corona virus. However, at the end of 2020, the country still had 277,539 bars and restaurants, according to statistics agency INE. The Spanish Association of Catering Companies estimates that some 85,000 establishments have been forced to close permanently.
While countries like Italy, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Romania, and the Netherlands quickly launched financial aid for the hospitality sector, it got off to a slow start in Spain. Moreover, in many cases aid consisted of credits rather than direct financial injections.
But many bars are holding out bravely. And have somehow weathered the onslaught of the pandemic, the lockdown, perimeter closures, curfews, reduced opening hours, reduced capacity. And the ensuing economic crisis. To the delight of customers who, after the restrictions were lifted, filled the terraces as enthusiastically as before.
Beer brand Mahou San Miguel is 100% a family business with 130 years of history. It took the sector’s suffering to heart and decided to step in for them. This is despite the fact that beer sales to the catering industry fell by 40% in the corona year. The 29% increase in beer sales to households could not fully offset that loss. Nevertheless, the company made a profit and invests that profit in the hospitality sector. Not only because it is important for beer sales, but also because they are so important to Spanish culture.
Last year, it already allocated more than €200million to support bars and restaurants. The company that markets the four beer brands Mahou, San Miguel, Alhambra and Solán de Cabras, thus sacrificed part of its own profits. “In 2020, we reduced our profit by 98% from the previous year in part because we decided to support the hospitality industry. It is the key to the national economy,” said Peio Arbeloa, general manager of Mahou San Miguel. And, as the company’s recently launched ‘Somos Familia’ campaign states, “We are Family and family is there to support each other”.
And now the beer company has launched a new support plan for the hospitality industry. It allocates €180million for this. “There is still a lot to be done. The situation has improved, but the hoteliers continue to need us,” says Arbeloa, who is confident that “maintaining the hotel business protects our lifestyle”.
€180million in aid
The €180million that the company will spend on the sector will range from personalised financial assistance – with tailor-made solutions adapted to the needs of each catering entrepreneur – to those for the adaptation and refurbishment of terraces and outdoor spaces. For many bars and restaurants now a basic necessity of survival.
Increased importance of the terrace
“The terrace definitely saved us,” said Manuel, a waiter at the El Buti tavern, in Plaza de Santiago, in the heart of Madrid. “And also the help of Mahou San Miguel in the form of the eight tables we have outside, the 20 chairs, the three umbrellas, and the glassware they have provided us. I don’t think we would have survived without all that,” he confesses.
Mahou San Miguel also provided warmth to catering establishments with terraces last winter. The placement of glass or fabric fronts around terraces to shield them from wind and cold and the provision of stoves have allowed many bars to remain open and attract customers.
Another pioneering initiative of the beer company in Spain is to make the furniture on the terraces 100% recycled and recyclable. The parasols that the company supplies are sustainable because thanks to nanotechnology. They are developed by a national company, and absorb polluting particles, reducing the number of harmful substances in the air. Each large parasol removes an equal amount of pollution from the air as two trees do. Currently, the eco-friendly umbrellas that Mahou San Miguel has supplied to Spain purify as much air as 80,000 trees would.
The brewer also offers hospitality businesses assistance in digitizing their establishments, legal advice and more efficient inventory management systems.
All this in order to preserve the essence of Spanish life and thus offer people “as many moments of connection as possible that make them happier”, emphasises the general manager of the company.