Independent food and drink wholesaler JW Filshill has expanded into the export market, setting up JW Filshill International Ltd – trading as The Craft Beer Clan of Scotland – to help Scottish craft brewers initially penetrate the lucrative Asia market.
The new company, with support from Scottish Development International (SDI) and Scotland Food & Drink, is drawing on the expertise of David Moore, a GlobalScot and respected Asia Pacific consultant, and beer industry veteran Chris Miller, ex-chief executive of Harviestoun Brewery.
Four breweries are currently involved: William Bros Brewing Company, based in Alloa; Eden Brewery of St Andrews; Perth-based Inveralmond Brewery; and the Deeside Brewery, Banchory. Craft Beer Clan of Scotland has already completed a successful trade mission to Asia, attending WhiskyL in Beijing and Shanghai plus events in Taipei and Seoul.
“The first container from these craft brewers was launched at WhiskyL and repeat orders are now being processed for China,” confirmed Craft Beer Clan of Scotland chief executive, Simon Hannah. “Filshill International is currently working on initial shipments for both Korea and Taiwan following successful presentations to key importers and, since returning from Asia, Chris Miller has been approached by several other craft brewers who wish to participate in this export portal.
“Chris is also in talks with our contacts in other key export markets including North America, Canada, Scandinavia, Italy, Japan and Australia.”
Hannah, who is managing director of Glasgow-based Filshill, owner of the KeyStore convenience store brand, said: “We’ve identified an opportunity to target Asia Pacific consumers who already love and buy Scotch whisky, and our initial trade mission to the WhiskyL events confirms there is an appetite for quality, Scottish craft beers – the number of people visiting our stands at WhiskyL far exceeded our expectations.
“Chris Miller has worked with the four breweries to pull together a strong and carefully chosen portfolio of beers that we believe will strike a chord with Asia Pacific consumers who are already aficionados of Scotch but are adventurous, want to try something new and will embrace the stories behind some of these fantastic Scottish craft beers. We were genuinely surprised and delighted by the trade and consumer reaction to some of the more interesting and challenging flavour profiles, including beers featuring Scottish ingredients.”
In less than six months, Hannah has built an impressive team of “Clansmen” boasting unrivalled breadth of experience not just in the Asia Pacific market but within the beer and whisky sectors including Moore, who founded consultancy business Eastmoore when he returned to Scotland in 2013 after working for 12 years throughout Asia Pacific with Diageo.
Miller, meanwhile, has over 20 years’ experience in the beer industry and is now chief executive of Solstice Brands, which develops collaborative growth strategies and commercial support for craft beer producers in both domestic and international markets.
Another key “Clansman” is Charles MacLean, one of the world’s leading whisky writers who is both well-known and well-connected in Asia, while JongWoo Kim, who has more than 25 years in the global consumer packaged goods industry having worked in markets such as Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Philippines, Taiwan and Switzerland, has joined the new venture. He led Diageo’s North Asia business for more than six years.
Hannah has also recruited Joe Tcheng, a Keeper of the Quaich who has 30-plus years’ leadership experience in the consumer goods sector across Asia and was managing director of South East Asia and latterly Greater China for Diageo.
“There’s a gap in the market for quality, Scottish craft beers in Asia Pacific and each member of the team has a particular strength that can help us make contact with key individuals and distributors,” said Hannah. “David has been able to open doors and introduce us to the right people very quickly, as have JongWoo Kim and Joe Tcheng. We’re working closely with the SDI teams in all the markets we’re targeting and their help has been invaluable.”
The Craft Beer Clan of Scotland has also identified a particular interest in wood-aged beers – beers matured in Scotch whisky casks – and Miller’s expertise in this area is a “real bonus”, Hannah said. “At Harviestoun, Chris was involved in the development of Ola Dubh which is aged in selected oak casks formerly used to mature Highland Park 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky,” he explained. “He launched this premium range in several key export markets and it was the first time there had been a partnership between a premium craft beer and a branded spirit.”
Adding that it was inspiring to work with like-minded people who embrace the concept of collaboration, Miller commented: “Simon has created an inspiring, cohesive team of people who see the benefits of pooling expertise and working together to mutual benefit. We all share the same values and see a significant opportunity for ambitious Scottish brewers who want to take their businesses to the next level.”
Industry body Scotland Food & Drink’s chief executive, James Withers, who has facilitated a number of meetings with interested breweries, commented: “The craft beer sector is one of the most exciting chapters in Scotland’s food and drink story right now. Unlocking our export potential is a key strategic priority for the industry and the new Scotland Food & Drink export plan has identified 15 markets which represent the greatest opportunity. China and South East Asia are two that have the most potential, with consumers increasingly looking for premium products with a strong provenance story – a perfect fit for our craft brewers.
“A crucial element of future export success from Scotland will be collaboration and The Craft Beer Clan of Scotland looks like a great emerging model for this. Scottish food and drink exports are at a record high and I’m confident this momentum can continue with developments like this.”
Since the launch of The Craft Beer Clan of Scotland, several more breweries have expressed interest in working with the company. Richard McLelland, director of sales and brotherhood at Williams Bros, isn’t surprised, commenting: “What started out as a great idea turned quickly into a real opportunity. Working with The Craft Beer Clan of Scotland has helped propel our beers into Asia as part of a tailored package that is greater than the sum of its parts and backed up by some of the most dynamic people in the business.”
His comments were echoed by Bob Hogg, commercial director of Inveralmond Brewery, who described China as a “complex market of significant medium to long-term opportunity”. Craft Beer Clan of Scotland, he suggested, offers a category-led platform which has been successful in other premium drinks sectors.
“More importantly, it is one that is understood and embraced by the indigenous Chinese consumer of high-end products,” he said. “While still in its embryonic stage, the craft beer market in China can be tapped by using this model implemented by an experienced and savvy team.”
Eden Brewery owner Paul Miller, whose Mandarin-speaking daughter Vicky Miller represented his company on the trade mission, added: “As a small brewery/distillery in St Andrews looking to grow and connect with trade and consumers in Asia, the Craft Beer Clan has been extremely helpful. The hurdles in entering a market such as China are huge for any small business and working with the team we were able to overcome these efficiently.
“Attending the events in Shanghai and Beijing showed us the vast range of expertise, reach and capability that ‘The Clan’ has in this region. The benefit of a body promoting a Scottish identity and category initiative in these markets should not be underestimated, and the power of this came through very strongly.”
Looking ahead, Hannah plans to create an export platform for the wider food and drink industry in Scotland. “We’re already speaking to some small producers of quality spirits and there are also some food brands that are perfect for this model,” he said. “Through JW Filshill International, we have ambitions to create an export portal for smaller producers which have aspirations to export but lack the knowledge and expertise due to their size.”