Thistle do nicely

Thistle do nicely

Julia Rennie, a director of Thistly Cross Cider, shares her export experience. She spoke to BQ down on South Belton Farm, near Dunbar, in East Lothian

When and why did you set up Thistly Cross?
“Thistly Cross was established in time for the autumn harvest of 2008. By this time, my father, Ian Rennie, as part of Belhaven Fruit Farm and Belhaven Smokehouse, had been developing complementary food companies for a number of years. Thistly Cross simply slotted into an existing business framework and the emerging Farmers’ Market boom of the late noughties.”

What have been the challenges for you?
“The greatest challenge has been simply to keep up with the rate of expansion. As Thistly is a small fish in a big competitive pond, we have had to try and stay ahead of the business, on top of the production, and open to the challenges of a small to medium business.”

How difficult was getting the production going?
“Thistly Cross had been building up the relevant contacts and necessary technological knowledge for several years, prior to going into production in October 2008.

Since then, we have had to create a robust and dynamic production process to keep up with increasing demand.”

Where do you source the apples?
“To be successful in the cider industry, it is necessary to have a good supply of quality ingredients. Likewise, when building a business, it is necessary to have a variety of resources to be able to keep up with demand.

Luckily for Thistly Cross, over the last couple of years, we have been able to gain both a strong foothold in the established UK network of suppliers to the cider industry and an increased reputation in Scotland for sourcing local apples.”

Do you feel there is a good market for you?
“In many ways, Thistly has had to create its own market for premium ciders. We still have much work to do educating consumers, building up demand, promoting the brand, working with retailers, establishing relationships with good partners and distributors.

Thistly has not been content to remain as a niche product but would very much like to be a part of the emerging premium mainstream – an influential marketplace where consumers expect the best.”

How have you gone about your exporting?
“We focused on building a strong presence in our local market at the start. Over time, demand came from further afield and opportunities presented themselves overseas that we started to explore. We have been exporting for just over two years now and focus on working with distributors/ agents that have a reputation for quality and a genuine passion for the products they represent.”

Which markets have you gone into?
“Our current export markets include the United States, where we are in 42 states, Canada, Russia, Finland, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Hong Kong and Australia.”

How have Scottish Enterprise helped you?
“We have attended various workshops aimed at helping Scottish businesses work with overseas partners. SE has also supported us with research projects and access to new markets. SDI’s representatives have been invaluable providing local information and translation when necessary!”