Asia's thirst for craft beer a reason to be cheerful for Scottish brands

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Miller said APAC is key to their growth, given increasing demand for quality premium (and Western) beverage products from the emerging middle classes.
Miller said APAC is key to their growth, given increasing demand for quality premium (and Western) beverage products from the emerging middle classes.
Japan is proving to be a fertile export market for a Scottish craft beer wholesaler, which is seeing significant growth in Asia as consumers demand look for more premium brews.

Christopher Miller, director of JW Filshill, which trades as the Craft Beer Clan, said the company was aiming to be the premier export consolidator for Scottish food and drink in the Asia Pacific region.

“The Asia Pacific territory is key to this growth, given increasing demand for quality premium (and Western) beverage products from affluent consumers or the emerging middle classes,” ​said Miller.

He said the company has seen about 100% growth in its Asia Pacific business in the past year or so, and has recently secured around US$130,000 of new business sin Japan alone – where sales are mainstream beers are stagnant, but demand for craft beer is booming.

“We are doubling exports to the Asia Pacific region,”​ he said.

 “I am very confident that the future for Scottish craft beer and spirits will continue to perform in Asia regions.”

Currently, JW Filshill exports to China (including Hong Kong), Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, Japan and the Middle East. Miller said they recently signed deals with new importers in Hong Kong, South Korea and Vietnam.

He said all of the above-mentioned countries are key markets for the company due to the strong consumer demand for premium and imported alcoholic beverages. He said, aside from the growth in the craft spirits market, the craft beer market in these countries is growing ever stronger.

“There is real interest in the stories behind the products. That is, their provenance, the people, the perfect serve, and food accompaniment,”​ said Miller.

Special craft to Asia

Among the main brands being exported to these Asia Pacific markets is the Clan Brewing Company’s range of four craft brews matured in (renowned) regional whisky barrels — Spruce Ale matured in Islay whisky cask, Red Rye Ale matured in Speyside whisky cask, Golden Ale matured in Highland whisky cask, and Imperial Stout matured in Lowland whisky cask.

Scott Williams, master brewer, and Charles MacLean, master of the Quaich, stated that the whisky casks imbued the beers with their own unique qualities, passing on flavours such as vanilla, and oak and sherry, and enhancing the already many layers in the beers.

These “beautifully complex”​ beers measure 8% in alcohol by volume.

Recent Japan deal

Miller and Simon Hannah, managing director of JW Filshill, inked several deals at FoodEx 2018 in March in Japan to export Scottish craft spirits and beers to the market.

JW Filshill appointed four import partners and agreed on the export of 20 craft distillers to Japan, with a total of 35 new products now on sale in the market.  

Miller said he was confident the figure would grow considerably through their import network in the Japanese market, and they have appointed an agent for the region.

“We now trade with four importers in Japan, consolidating supply from 18 Scottish companies and nearly 50 SKUs,” ​said Miller.

These deals were preceded by an agreement to place Scottish craft products on sale on ecommerce site last year.

Miller said the brands exported to Japan through the four importers comprise Pickering’s Gin, Clan Brewing Company, Eden.Mill, Glasgow Distillery, McQueen, Strathearn, Williams Brothers, West Beer and a new initial order recently received for 10 new distilleries (and 17 products) through Scotch Malt Sales and Amazon.

“Japan consumers have so far been very receptive, and the rate of sale has been strong in the market,” ​he said.

According to Miller, collaborating closely with Scottish Development International (SDI), Scotland Food and Drink, and craft brewers and distillers, has been key to their success.

JW Filshill Ltd was established in 1875 and based in Glasgow, has recently grown its partnerships with producers to now work with more than 40 craft brewers and 40 craft distillers from across Scotland.

The company supplies about 8,000 products to 1,400 businesses across Scotland and Northern England, generating a turnover of £142m. It employs over 200 people.

JW Filshill also runs a 175-strong convenience symbol group chain called KeyStore, in Scotland.

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