There was a time, long ago, when beer was categorized as either domestic or import. Both tasted the same, but one was more expensive. Today, we Canadians are living in the golden age for beer. Not only do consumers enjoy an incredibly wide selection of breweries and beer styles, but Canadian breweries make remarkably good beer. So why not share with the rest of the world?
The history of beer exports is well connected to the current craft beer movement. The bitter and aromatic India Pale Ale (IPA) has become synonymous with the shift in the industry. This flavour-bomb brew draws its name and recipe from international trade. The British shipped ale across the globe to their men stationed in India. Not surprisingly, a hot, sunny, six-month rocky sea voyage (on a sailboat!) often spoiled the ale. To combat the spoilage, hops—one of four key beer ingredients—were used in higher quantities as a preservative for the long voyage. An important side effect of this overt use of hops was a tastier, more aromatic beer.
While it’s clear that beer was historically meant to be shared around the world, Canadian brewers could do better. Generous as we are, Canada shares a good amount of beer with our southern neighbours. According to Beer Canada, total beer exports in 2018 were valued at $155.1 million, with a quantity of 163.4 million litres. That’s enough Canadian suds to fill more than 5,000 above-ground pools.
New markets: why they’re good for what ales you
While those figures aren’t bad, in 2008, Canada was exporting far more—$325 million worth of beer into the U.S. alone. But there’s been a downward trend ever since. Perhaps it’s time to reverse the needle and share more of the quality beer coming out of Canadian breweries—to the U.S. and beyond.
Here are six tips for Canadian brewers looking to sell outside of Canada:
1. Don’t peel the label—branding matters
The beer market is crowded and competitive and it’s important to stand out to succeed. The brand a brewery has worked so hard to build in domestic markets is essentially an unknown outside of Canada. Knowing more about your export market can help with making branding decisions. If you’re not sure where to start your market research, our export help team can point you in the right direction. Share your question with the team here.
Consider the innovative approach by Collective Arts Brewing in Hamilton, Ontario. This craft brewery changes its can or bottle labels frequently with original designs. It hosts numerous call for art competitions, asking artists to submit artwork for their labels. Jeff Tkachuk, vice-president of finance & operations, sums up their brand as “geographically agnostic.” It allows them to localize their marketing to a region and make an immediate connection with local artists. Beyond Collective Arts, all breweries interviewed for this article noted that they explored markets where they saw similar brand values to those that made them successful in their hometown.
2. Choose the right drinking partner—know your distributor
Having a knowledgeable local partner is crucial. The further away beer is from the brewery, the less control the brewery has over their product. A good importer or local contact can make all the difference when getting established in a new location. They can work with local retailers and provide feedback to the brewery back home.
Tom Orange, president of Fuggles & Warlock Craftworks, sees this as a top priority. He recommends exporters “select an import partner who is very much aligned with your business philosophy.” This is why he interviewed numerous candidates before selecting the perfect new team members in Korea. For those just starting to sell internationally, the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada team can also help companies identify distributors in their countries of interest. Contact their team at email@example.com.
Far Out Exporters is a Canadian company that works with breweries to get their product international. The company curates full container shipments of Canadian beer, usually from multiple breweries, and connects them with global purchasers. Leveraging their expertise and the quality of Canadian beer, they bridge a gap for local breweries. “Breweries are lean businesses and can’t carry an international expert,” explains President Don Tse, “We do a difficult thing on behalf of breweries and we believe that’s a good business model.” By purchasing the beer prior to shipment, Far Out Exporters ensures the decision to go international makes economic sense.
3. No second first impression—avoid stale beer
As our 18th-century British beer traders learned, timing is an important factor. Many beer styles tend to taste best fresh. Consider a beer shipped from Ontario to the U.S. as an example. The product will need to be imported by a licensed importer and then moved to a distributor. The distributor then needs to get the beer into stores. Once shelved, the beer has to be sold and consumed. Each step takes time. If the beer sits for too long at any stage, the final product and taste may be affected.
As there’s no second chance with a consumer’s first impression, stamping production dates to indicate freshness is a good first step. Replace aging product with fresh beer when necessary. Brewing to order for international sales is another safeguard against staleness. Drew Knox, a beer consultant, points to niche beers that can be cellared as strong candidates to export, as they stand out due to their unique flavour and can survive long trips or shelf time.
Ramping up exports and building your new markets slowly are another way to avoid aging your beer on an international shelf. Sharing the freight with other local exporters, working with exporting companies or shipping smaller amounts of product are good ways to slowly build a new following in an unfamiliar market.
4. Check the tap list—FDA and international labelling requirements
Different jurisdictions have different regulations and requirements when it comes to lab testing and even labels. The International Alliance for Responsible Drinking has a table of Beverage Alcohol Labeling Requirements by Country, which can be a helpful start to finding requirements for your target market, and it also provides information on the authority that can be contacted for details. The U.S. 22-page manual on the Basic Mandatory Labeling Information for Malt Beverages is a real page-turner, as is its companion piece specific to beer labeling.
As noted, EDC has received more inquiries from the beer industry regarding entering Asian markets. The Asia Pacific Food Law Guide by Baker McKenzie helps you navigate food import requirements. And though the information under beverages and alcohol is limited, we recommend dog-earring the section on pre-packaged food and beverages (e.g. labelling requirements).
Trade associations can help navigate your new markets’ regulations and connect you with companies, agents or distributors. For example, the purpose of the Japan Wines and Spirits Importers’ Association is to help facilitate the import business. The Japan Craft Beer Association can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about their list of beer importers.
If you can read Korean, try the Korea Wines & Spirits Importers Association to leverage their membership list by contacting them directly at email@example.com. Similarly, the Hong Kong & Kowloon Provisions, Wine & Spirit Association has a directory of trading companies.
A freight forwarder can also help and can confirm any other shipping requirements. The Canadian International Freight Forwarders Association (CIFFA) has a searchable member directory.
Don’t let these regulations feel overwhelming, as there are services that can help. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada offers Agri-Food Trade Services for Exporters to assist with market intelligence, market access questions, and more. Reach out to their team for help with navigating labelling and other regulatory requirements for selling beer to international markets.
Other regional organizations to consider for help include:
- Ontario Food Exports (OFEX)
- BC's Agriculture & Seafood market development team
- MAPAQ (Quebec)
- Agri-Food Export Group (Quebec)
- Canadian Food Inspection Agency
- Canadian Food Exporters Association
Dealing with documentation when delivering products to international countries or with burdensome shipping costs, freight forwarders can help reduce the workload abroad and minimize costs, rather than managing this on your own. EDC’s InList tool can match companies with Canadian service providers to help you find a freight forwarder.
5. Liquid courage to succeed globally
Entering an international new market is daunting. New distribution networks, importers, retailers and regulations need to be considered. It’s not without risk and the long grind required to gain a foothold can be challenging. Beau’s All Natural Brewing co-founder Steve Beauchesne admits there are extra hurdles for exporters to consider, but as a pint-glass- half-full kind of guy, he enthusiastically points out that for those brave enough to make the leap, the potential market of new global consumers is massive.
6. Be sociable—connect
Successful exporting breweries noted the importance of the relationships they had with breweries in their export markets. Brewing collaborative beers helped the Canadian breweries learn more about their new market and introduced them to the networks they needed to succeed. Beer does tend to bring people together. Industry associations are a great place to get firsthand knowledge from fellow breweries, including:
- Craft Brewers Association of Nova Scotia
- Association des Microbrasseries du Québec
- Ontario Craft Brewers
- Alberta Small Brewers Association
- BC Craft Brewers Guild
Attending industry events is also a good way to make connections, sample competitors and explore new markets. Set a reminder for April 19 to 22, 2020 to attend the Craft Brewers Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Keep an eye on The Florida Craft Beer Expo’s 2020 date and leverage the Trade Commissioner Service in Miami.
Finally, talk to us at EDC
Find out how we can provide your brewery with knowledge and advice as you explore new markets, or use our finance and insurance solutions to reduce your risk as you begin your export journey. Call 1-888-220-0047 or send us a question. Just be sure to ask for me when you call or email… Cheers!