Trade Mission To Brazil: Ilkley Brewery

Founder of Ilkley Brewery, Chris Ives was delighted to take part in the Breakthrough trade mission to Brazil, where he learned the value of premium branding, targeting your business approach and simply meeting people face-to-face

When Chris Ives, founder of Ilkley Brewery, began formulating an export strategy as a means of growing his business, he hadn’t given serious thought to Brazil. Cautionary tales about the South American country’s complexities had led him to turn his thoughts to other markets like Canada, New Zealand, Scandinavia and the EU. However, following a visit to Brazil as a delegate on a Breakthrough trade mission to São Paulo, Ilkley Brewery is set to gain a foothold there. A deal with one local food and drink distributor is in the offing and there are strong prospects of signing with others.

Having set up Ilkley Brewery in 2009, Chris realised early on that exporting was the most likely route to increasing his company’s growth. The popularity of micro-breweries and the UK’s strict duty regime meant that domestic growth would only take the business so far. “The market is busy in the UK,” says Chris. “I thought that exporting would be easier than competing direct. The other problem in the UK is the duty regime. Beers are taxed more heavily here than the rest of the EU and certainly than most of South America. I thought we could get more profit per pint by supplying the right export market.”

Premium goods

When the Breakthrough programme invited him to take part in their trade mission, Chris jumped at the chance, even though Brazil’s high taxation regime appeared to make it counter-intuitive as a target market. Taxes can be levied at government, local, and city level. However, premium products are highly prized by Brazil’s wealthiest and the UK rides high there thanks to its reputation for expertise and exacting standards.

The Breakthrough trade mission gave Chris access to valuable inside knowledge, such as the kinds of imported beers that Brazilians like to drink. “The trip also enabled me to see what was in stores locally and gave access to experts at KPMG, as well as lawyers who might help me set up locally. I learnt an awful lot about Brazil and an awful lot about import and export.”

The combination of research, the right introductions and just being on the ground meant that Ilkley Brewery was able to make targeted approaches. “I talked to two distributors to restaurants and bars across Brazil. Both import UK beers, but in a small way. They are willing to add Ilkley Brewery to their portfolios because UK products are seen as premium products.”

Getting the facts

Ilkley Brewery is now set to leverage the spending power of Brazil’s wealthier consumers. Local beers go on supermarket shelves at the equivalent of 30p per bottle. On the other hand, a premium UK beer may retail for as much as £15 per bottle. “I thought the import duty regime would mean that I wouldn’t be making anything, in fact it’s exactly the opposite,” says Chris. “It’s a fantastic opportunity.”

Taking part in the trade mission has prompted Chris to focus his operation firmly on export and marketing. Thanks to their fast growth, the company has already outgrown two business plans, and Chris is currently busy formulating a third. The trip also confirmed the need to make face-to-face contact with potential customers, wherever they are. “You have to do the legwork. You’re not going to achieve anything sitting behind a desk,” he says.

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