Suffolk brewery looks to export a million bottles a year to China

St Peter's Brewery CEO Steve Magnall. Picture: Nick Butcher

St Peter's Brewery CEO Steve Magnall. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Beers and ales brewed in East Anglia will be filling up supermarket shelves in China, thanks to a deal between a Suffolk brewery and a Chinese importer.

St Peter's Brewery CEO Steve Magnall. Picture: Nick Butcher

St Peter's Brewery CEO Steve Magnall. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

St Peter’s Brewery in Bungay has signed a deal to export its Ruby Red, Cream Stout, India Pale Ale, Old Style Porter and Golden Ale brands in both 500ml and 330ml bottles to an exporter based in Hunan Province, an area with a population of 65 million.

Chief executive Steve Magnall said his brewery could soon be exporting a million bottles a year to China.

He is anticipating to ship over one container a week, each containing between 12,000 and 24,000 bottles and resulting in a 25% hike in production for the brewery.

“The importer we are working with is really keen to work with us. We are the first British import for them and they have a massive online presence - bigger than Amazon here,” he said.

St Peter's Hall, South Elmham, home to St Peter's Brewery.
Picture: Nick Butcher

St Peter's Hall, South Elmham, home to St Peter's Brewery. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

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“They have taken a full container of our products and are going to try to see which ones work for them.

“I think the traditional bottles will do well in China, where British produce is highly regarded. They will pick whichever ones prove to be the most popular.”

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After linking up with the Chinese British Business Council (CBBC) two years ago, St Peter’s Brewery started building up a relationship with their Chinese importer last year.

Mr Magnall said: “In China, you have to pay for introductions, so CBBC introduced us to importers looking for certain products. They try to marry you up - it’s like a dating agency! We have met with our importer several times in the UK and have had lots of Facetime conversations. Once we’re established, we’ll go out to China for a visit.”

East Anglia is forging closer links with China, as many East Anglian companies are now looking to consolidate trade in the East as they prepare for Brexit.

East of England exports to China reached a value of £2.7bn in the first quarter of 2018. In 2017, China imported more than £12bn worth of goods from the region – an increase of almost £3bn compared with 2016.

A report released by Barclays Corporate Banking earlier this year revealed that demand for British-made products in China has risen by 36% over the past five years, with Chinese consumers perceiving British products to be of ‘superior quality.’

Opportunities for all

“Without question, if you look at markets outside of Europe - particularly at China and India - those are the markets that businesses should be dealing with,” said Mr Magnall. “Here in East Anglia we have the agricultural base and we have Felixstowe Port, so there are many opportunities for companies based here to broaden their horizons.”

St Peter’s Brewery, which has a turnover of £4m, currently employs 27 staff and is looking to take on more from October onwards. “We can’t keep up with demand at the moment,” Mr Magnall said.

About 40% of St Peter’s beers and ales are currently exported, amounting to four million bottles a year, and the brewery is gaining a foothold in the West as well as the East.

“We did a tour of Canada, the US and Mexico and now we are in all the high-end stores in Mexico - the equivalent of Harvey Nichols,” said Mr Magnall. “But the recent unrest after the elections in Mexico has meant a drop-off in sales for us there.”

Ryan Crisp, export sales manager, said: “We don’t know what the next few years hold when it comes to export, but what we do know is that deals outside of Europe are going to enable us to continue to export in the large volumes that we do currently.”

He added that the business “can’t afford” to “rest on its laurels” when it comes to post-Brexit Britain.

“We’re being proactive and fostering new relationships with importers across the globe,” Mr Crisp said.

“China is quickly becoming one of the largest craft beer markets in the world so this new deal will be huge for us. It will allow us to generate a whole new customer base in a market that we have previously been unable to reach.

“British produce is highly regarded in China so we expect our range of delicious, hand-crafted beers to be incredibly popular.”

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