Best practice

Selling beer into export markets can carry a degree of risk based on the longevity of the supply chain as well as the complexities of the destination market. However, brewers considering export trade can take steps to significantly reduce this risk through developing an understanding of those markets that are being considered and by developing an export plan.

Research into foreign markets should consider the entire supply chain route from brewery gate to final point of sale. Decisions about trading in foreign markets will be informed by internal commercial considerations as well as developing a thorough understanding of the destination market; including such topics as:

  • Regulatory requirements
  • Market composition and competition
  • Suppliers and market/distribution rights
  • Consumer preferences and expectations.

Brewers interested in export should not underestimate the value of brand protection via trademarking and the importance of registering a unique or distinctive mark.

The reputation and success of a brewery relies upon product consistency and quality.

Beer packaging is designed to maintain the quality and freshness of the packaged product. However, beer is perishable and once it has left the brewery there are many factors that can affect both quality and stability, either directly or indirectly, and which will often result in beer that is substantially different from those characteristics that are intended or desired by the brewer.

For exported products, the time in transit to the destination market and the conditions that the packaged product is exposed to en route can all have significant, detrimental effects on beer quality and consistency. Such factors may include:

  • Light
  • Temperature – heat and cold
  • Air quality
  • Physical agitation
  • Poor hygiene

When exporting beer, ensure that you understand the details of the logistics supply chain in order that these factors can be better controlled. It is also important to ensure that all relevant stakeholders, up to the point of dispense, are aware of these factors in relation to the package type or are provided with any relevant materials or resources to help them understand how the beer should be handled, stored, and served to ensure product consistency.

Irrespective of package format, an understanding of the provenance of the product, including information about the producer and ingredients used, will also be vital in supporting brand reputation and promotion.

Beer is a perishable product and as such ensuring freshness is an important part of delivering a product that matches consumer expectation. Inclusion of a clear indication of the shelf life of a product, usually as a best before end (BBE) date, is a vital element of ensuring that beer is not served past this date.

Brewers should ensure that dates are clear and easily understood. For this reason, BBE dates should be used rather than Lot Codes or similar. Care must also be taken to ensure that date codes are understood within the market which the beer is sold.

In addition to format, BBE dates should be set to reflect control of product quality as well as the period that the product will spend in transit to the final market destination.

For export product that is intended to be served via draught dispense, companies may wish to ensure that sufficient information is provided to retailers in the export market to understand the key characteristics of the product, including any relevant information regarding the producer, to ensure consumers understand the product being served.

Examples of key characteristics that may describe the product, or which might impact on expected sensory and visual characteristics, are as follows:

  • Colour and clarity
  • Flavour and aroma
  • Head
  • Carbonation
  • Body and balance

For any export market, but in particular for those where it is more difficult for a brewer to visit in person, it is important that serving staff and those with a consumer-facing role should share the same understanding of the producer and an appreciation of the desired characteristics and quality for the product when served at optimum condition.

As far as possible, and where it is more difficult for a brewer to visit in person, literature about the product and producer, including brand information and tasting notes, should accompany beer intended for draught dispense. Where this is not possible, a clear indication of where such information can be found should be provided. Producers must consider the challenges of communicating this information in the language of the market within which the beer will be sold.

The full extent of the distribution supply chain should be understood by the brewer and as far as possible conditions ensured to protect the integrity of the beer. Where relevant, brewers should take the time to educate stakeholders within the supply chain to help ensure maximum quality control over the beer to ensure that it reaches the consumer with the desired character:

  • Maintain optimum temperature control of the beer (i.e. refrigerated) whilst shipping and through subsequent warehousing and distribution.
  • FIFO stock rotation. Wherever possible, a system should be in place that ensures only beer which conforms to the expected brand specification and which is “in date” should be made available for sale. There should be a system by which beer out of specification or date can be identified and recalled.
  • Ensure excellent communication between the brewer and the customer including any relevant supply chain stakeholders from the brewery to the final point of dispense.

For additional information on exporting generally, see the following resources

  • Open to Export (https://opentoexport.com/food-and-drink/). This website pulls together a host of useful government pages from the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Rural and Agricultural Affairs, as well as several trade associations, to create a UK-wide export support portal. It provides links to DIT export opportunities, guidance on markets, certification support and more.
  • Brewers of Europe (https://brewup.eu/). For information on European markets, visit the association that brings together national brewing associations from 29 European countries. Their BrewUp page provides a host of information on market requirements like labelling requirements to advertising regulations.
  • The UK Intellectual Property Office’s guidance for protecting your brand abroad can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/protecting-your-uk-intellectual-property-abroad/protecting-your-trade-mark-abroad.
  • Specific national associations are featured within the relevant country profiles.

Conclusion

  1. Do not sell your beers without undertaking due diligence of the market.
  2. Visit the market, if possible before and after product is exported. This is invaluable in ensuring the integrity and quality of product and understanding the consumer, dispense challenges, and suitability of beer style to market.
  3. Ensure that logistics from your brewery to the export market are fit for purpose so that the quality of beer at dispense point is as you, the brewer, intends. It is important to ensure that beer is protected from excessive changes in temperature (both heat and cold). Where possible, temperature-controlled storage i.e. refrigeration should be considered. Don’t rely on weather patterns to regulate the temperature of your product.
  4. Descants should also be considered to avoid damage to labels or potential for rust forming during transportation and storage.
  5. Control the quality of your product as much as possible, from brewery gate to point of dispense.
  6. Investigate where other brewers are having success.
  7. Remember to factor keg return costs into the price of your beer. One trip kegs can offer savings in transportation costs. Or, look for reciprocal arrangements with brewers in export market so kegs can be back-filled for return journey. Where such arrangements can be found, consideration should be made to the style and type of beer being back-filled and compatibility with the original brewer and risks of cross contamination i.e. presence of wild yeasts or other microorganisms.
  8. In new, emerging markets export smallpack to start OR invest in the training of local staff, including wholesalers/distributors, in the handling of your draught beer.
  9. Be firm on “best before” dates. Ensure your best practice is acceptable, taking into account the beer style, length of journey to market, storage temperature en route and within the final market.
  10. Ensure your importers/wholesalers/distributors/retailers know the “story” of your beer and can convey this to the consumer/buyer. Have a budget to cover market visit costs to endorse/input your story.