Perfect timing for crafting an export strategy for beer

Back in January, I wrote about the effects the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing (QE) programme will have on beer. The Euro exchange rate has, for want of a better word, tanked. We’re on course for parity against the US dollar and sterling is strong and only getting stronger. This could bad news for imports of US and UK craft beer into the Eurozone but great news for Irish breweries exporting or looking to export.

Exports of Irish beers could be boosted further by positive indicators within the Eurozone. Consumer sentiment for March 2015 is at its highest levels since 2007. Confidence has been boosted by the QE programme combined with falling unemployment and low oil prices. What does this mean? Quite simply private consumption is expected to rise by 2% this year and 1.5% in 2016 (source: Capital Economics). People will socialise with confidence and in economic terms this could involve boosts to nondurable goods (e.g. off licences) and services (e.g. bars, restaurants etc). This would underpin economic recovery within the Eurozone but sadly it’s one that will not be felt equally across all countries/regions.

Global finance and trade

So Irish breweries can benefit from the weak Euro currency to export to the US, UK and further afield and they can take advantage of the recovering consumer demand in the Eurozone. Irish exports would not only match quality but they could also be competitive alongside US and UK products exported to these markets. The costs associated with small batch exports may be offset by the strong dollar and sterling.

It is timely then that two significant events took place last week that hopefully will result in Irish breweries delivering on their export potential. Bord Bia’s Marketplace International 2015 saw 150+ Irish food and drink companies having access to 400+ buyers from over 25 countries. They could showcase their offerings in a sort of speed-dating format (i.e. a series of 20 minute one-on-one meetings). It was great to see Brú Brewery, Jack Cody’s, Metalman, Rye River and Trouble Brewing involved. Franciscan Well was also there as Bord Bia promotes all food and beverage products produced in Ireland. By and large each of the breweries have limited exports to date (e.g. average 5% of total sales) with the exception of Rye River reporting 40% export sales.

The other event was IFE 2015, a biannual food and drink event held in London. It brings together approximately 27,000 buyers and suppliers of food & drink products and takes over the entire Excel Arena in London. I worked at this event in 2005 and the scale is simply staggering. Whilst there was no Irish brewery exhibiting this year, the event is extremely useful for networking in the trade and meeting potential buyers and distributors. It was great to see the likes of Cotton Ball in Cork making it over to the expo.

Breweries at Bord Bia's Marketplace 2015
Breweries at Bord Bia’s Marketplace 2015

Hopefully events such as these can help these breweries and the others in Ireland take advantage of the extremely favourable export conditions. Irish breweries should be confident that they can follow in the footsteps of Carlow, the Porterhouse, Eight Degrees, Rye River and White Hag in having a significant export strategy. They should also aim to build on one-off or limited exports if it’s in keeping with their own business strategies. Isn’t it great to see the likes of Kelly’s Mountain on sale in Russia?

Scale’s obviously going to be an issue but improved market access can help attract additional finance. They may need ongoing help from Government agencies and the sector could benefit from more hands-on support from Enterprise Ireland. If negotiations on the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are concluded, Irish SMEs are expected to benefit most from the new EU-US trade deal. This is some time off however and while it would make it easier to do general business in the US, the peculiar post-prohibition regulatory regime will remain in place.

This is not to forget that the market is still growing at home and the weak Euro may have a positive knock-on effect on consumer demand for Irish produced beers over UK and US imports. So far their prices have been steady but for how long can Irish distributors keep them steady? It will be interesting to watch effect, if any, does the exchange rates have on Wetherspoons’ prices as well.

Better late than never, thoughts on the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014

It’s been some time now since I last posted and it certainly hasn’t been a case that I’ve been ignoring the beer scene. It has just been insanely busy and given that the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014 is taking place in Dublin this weekend, there’s no time like the present to get back into it. The conference, only in its fourth year, takes place for the first time outside of Britain (previous host cities were London, Leeds & Edinburgh) and it’s shaping up to be a great event.

I go to conferences a lot for work and they can be tedious affairs. You encounter people who are always looking down at name-badges checking out if there are more important people they could be talking to. However, the best conferences undoubtedly are beer related and I attend them in a personal capacity. Although, I did do a beer tasting for conference attendees in Brugge last week that certainly livened up proceedings for delegates. Ian over at 11pmsomewhere.com has put together a guide for attendees for the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2014.

This conference will be different because I certainly need to brush up on my social media and blogging skills (once described as “criminally under-publicised”) so the Saturday sessions will be for me. No disrespect to those speaking on the Friday on the Irish craft beer scene keg v cask and bottle v can and whatnot, they’re interesting topics and will prompt debate (hopefully on the future of organisations such as CAMRA). However, it is looking increasingly unlikely that I’ll be able to make most of the Friday sessions. I’ll certainly be there for the trip to the Guinness Storehouse and this brings up an interesting issue. There was a lot of discussion on blogs and other social media platforms on the subject of sponsorship by Big Beer. Sadly a few conscientious beer objectors felt they couldn’t participate in an event with such sponsors. This is a shame because most events need sponsors and surely as bloggers they didn’t have to feature the sponsors if they didn’t want to (not suggesting a breakaway European Craft Beer Bloggers Conference).

The best feature of course will be to meet the fellow attendees, many for the first time but those we’ve been chatting with or slagging on twitter. Some of whom have written some fantastic books on beer. It will also be an opportunity to catch-up with the Irish brewers attending due to being panellists or presenting their wares at a reception hosted by Beer Ireland. Sarah Roarty’s promised delegates something special and she’s bringing her award winning Oatmeal Stout on cask – happy days! A big shout out has to be given to the irrepressible Carlow Brewing Company which is not only sponsoring the final reception (following the Franciscan Well Dinner hosted by Shane Long) they’re giving the attendees the opportunity to collaborate on a new beer.

The pre-conference Trail of Ale led by Reuben (www.taleofale.com) will give delegates a opportunity to explore some of the finer beer bars of the city. J.W. Sweetman’s, the Palace, The Porterhouse, The Norseman and  two of the Cottage Group estate (the Black Sheep and Brew Dock) because like in most cities, specialist beer bars tend to come along in groups. The Porterhouse will be a familiar name to those attending from London but what is often overlooked is that when it opened up its Covent Garden pub back in 2000, it was only the second specialist beer bar in London, after the Mark Dorber’s re-imagining of the White Horse in Parson’s Green. The re-emergence of the London beer scene is very much like the transformation that has taken place in this country over the past decade.

There’s certainly going to be a lot of drinking and socialising being done of the course of the next few days. This is all the more fitting in a week where a report published by the Health Research Board branded almost a third of the population as “harmful” drinkers. It’s time for a change in thinking on what constitutes binge drinking. The role of beer bloggers will become even more influential in combatting the fact that beer is always singled out by the anti-drink lobby. We can put forward the facts because the anti-drink lobby, whatever their objectives, tend to ignore the facts such as in Ireland consumption is now 25% lower than 2001 and is back to pre-1990 levels and average consumption fell by 7.6% between 2012 and 2013.

Beer Bloggers Conference