DAVID Coppock, Head of Region for the North-East at the Department for International Trade, explores the growing appetite for British craft beer overseas, and outlines how the region’s brewing talent can access markets like China.

International Beer Day, last Friday, is a calendar date that all North-East brewers can raise a glass to – especially as British beer increasingly appeals to overseas consumers and trade buyers.

From January to May this year, the UK exported £114.4 million worth of beer to countries outside of the EU, a four per cent increase on the same period in 2018. This means more opportunities for breweries across the North-East to tap into this growing demand from overseas beer lovers.

Sonnet 43 Brew House is one local brewery that’s benefitting from the demand from abroad for British beers. Founded in 2012, the Durham-based brewery produces 15,000 pints a week.

The business secured its first overseas order last year after meeting buyers on a trade mission, supported by the Food is GREAT campaign, to FHC (Food Hotel China) exhibition in Shanghai. This was the company’s first taste of exporting, and its traditional English beers proved to be a big hit with consumers in China.

As part of the Food is GREAT campaign, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for International Trade (DIT) offer a wealth of support to help British producers. This includes providing support during trade missions, like FHC.

Since securing the deal, the business has sent all nine of its beers to China in both can and bottle formats, and they can now be found for sale in bars across Shanghai. Sonnet 43 Brew House is now hoping to target other buyers in China, with its unique-tasting beers including its bourbon milk stout, blonde beer and steam beer amber ale.

The success of businesses like Sonnet 43 shows the sort of opportunities there are for local brewers to take on large overseas markets. It also shows that you don’t have to be a brewing giant to access them. But while exporting offers lucrative opportunities for breweries, there are several factors they should consider before sending their beers overseas.

When exporting alcohol, it’s important that businesses familiarise themselves with local standards and regulations, particularly when exporting to highly regulated markets, such as China.

And when doing business in China, there is a lot of emphasis placed on inter-personal relationships in business, known as guanxi. Face-to-face meetings go a long way to developing the rapport required to secure new business partners.

Food and drink exported to China must be correctly labelled in Simplified Chinese, with the country of origin, the name and address of the Chinese distributor, weight, ingredients, date of production and expiry date. Products must also be approved by China’s Inspection and Quarantine agency before they reach the shelves.

For some products, however, it’s good practice for the original English label to still be visible, as Chinese consumers are more likely to pay a premium for goods that are clearly identifiable as made in the UK.

We currently have more than 10,000 people across the North-East working in the food and drink sector, a figure I hope to see grow as more local businesses expand into international markets.

Following International Beer Day, we want breweries from across the North-East to get in touch to see how we can help them to kickstart their exporting journey and maximise this opportunity growth.

DIT has a team of experienced International Trade Advisers based across the North-East on hand to assist ambitious businesses that want to start or develop their export strategy.

Breweries and firms in the North-East looking for exporting support should contact DIT on 0345-136-0169 or email northeast@mobile.trade.gov.uk.