How I cracked America

How I cracked America

WEST Brewery founder Petra Wetzel explains how her Scottish business took on the US beer market and won.

The premium lager industry is expected to grow by 7.1 percent over the next five years, highlighting the marked change that discerning drinkers have brought to the sector.

WEST Brewery is at the forefront of this sector in the UK, following the Reinheitsgebot law to produce lagers that are only made with water, malt, hops and yeast. While the real and craft ale market looks to use increasingly complex flavours and characters to stand out, we brew bold, stand-out lagers and wheat beers with simple ingredients.

This trend for quality is not just present in the beer market – fair trade and organic products have also seen continuous global growth over the past few years. Quality is becoming something sought after not just in the UK but also worldwide as consumers shift their drinking habits.

This potential for business growth amongst companies trading in such goods is potentially huge – the success that WEST has had in exporting to Italy is a case in point – but the obstacles can also be daunting to businesses inexperienced in international trading.

The US market for WEST is an essential part of developing our global presence, triggered by a resurgence in the craft beer market and the opportunity to tap into this discerning taste.

In order to break into this market there were a range of steps that WEST had to undertake in order to build a firm foundation from which to launch. Firstly, an acute understanding of the market and consumers’ purchasing habits, such as where, how often and how much is consumed was essential.

This provided the much needed information required to help the business target the correct audience, plan a marketing strategy and begin to map out distribution.

To facilitate the distribution of products, finding a US importer is vital. The in depth knowledge of the local landscape they have provided has given our business a solid base from which our St. Mungo lager, the flagship beer of the brewery, can begin to make inroads amongst major competitor brands.

Our ambition is not volume of sales, but reputation for quality, so it was essential that our importer believed in the lager we produce. We fully researched the various importers open to us in the US, and selected the one that understood our aims and offering the most. An understanding such as this allows an importer to sell your product as effectively as you would yourself.

An importer’s knowledge will also be able to provide industry contacts for your business. Getting to know trade bodies, major players and also UK Trade and Investment officials will give you access to numerous people who can aid your business in its ambition for growth, from trade shows to one-to-one meetings. Through this, WEST Brewery managed to begin a discourse with potential investors and buyers whose relationships are key to our future growth in the US.

Ensuring these steps are put in place is essential before taking the plunge overseas as it will help any brewer assess how to approach the lucrative US industry.

WEST Brewery has recently taken part in Santander’s Breakthrough Trade Mission to Boston and New York, which enabled the company to learn firsthand how to traverse these vital stepping stones. We now have a firm footing on US soil with the help of our importer and the recent appointment of a New York-based PR agent, so that we can continue our expansion into new and exciting territories.