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Scottish brewer takes on US lager giants

Glasgow-based West Brewery has set its sights on export expansion into the US, inspired by the market’s twin appetites for lager and the craft ale movement.

Petra Wetzel, founder of West Brewery

Petra Wetzel, founder of West Brewery, described the US as “a perfect fit thanks to the overwhelming popularity that lagers and pale lagers have in the country.”

Citing predictions of 7.1% growth in the US premium lager industry over the next five years, Wetzel pointed to the even bigger increase in the country’s craft ale industry, which has continued to grow since the 10.3% sales uplift in 2009 reported by The Denver Business Journal.

The combination of these two factors, suggested Wetzel, “shows that, while lager is still the most popular drink in the country, and not ales, the taste for premium, localised drinks is growing, providing an opening for West Brewery’s style of bold, individual lagers.”

However, despite this common ground with the craft ale movement, Wetzel revealed that West is aiming to compete with some of the US market’s biggest brands, including Bud Light, Budweiser and Coors Light.

“Our aim is to continually challenge them in the lager market,” confirmed Wetzel. “The growth of the discerning drinker means that people are moving away from simply social drinking and towards appreciating the taste and style, causing them to drink it time and again.

West’s US ambitions have won support from Santander’s Breakthrough programme, an initiative designed to boost the UK’s fastest growing small and medium-sized businesses, which allowed the brewer to visit the US in order to research and test the market at first hand.

Having secured an importer in the form of Shelton Brothers, whom Wetzel felt “naturally understood exactly what West Brewery wanted to do, and where our flagship lager, St Mungo, sits in the market,” the company also carried out extensive research into the shape of the US retail sector.

“In the US, unlike the UK, corner shops and small convenience stores are well stocked with a large variety of beers and are an essential part of the industry thanks to the high product turnover they make,” observed Wetzel.

As a result she described the US retail scene as “a fantastic starting point for understanding which beers are most sought after in different locations, from the light, pale lagers of Bud Light up to the more complex, crafted beers.”

Offering advice to fellow UK brewers considering expansion into other markets, Wetzel urged them to consider as a priority “Where does your drink fit in? Who is your target audience? Knowing the answers to these questions has enabled us to determine that our business has great potential within the US.”

For more information and case studies about building a global beer brand, see the drinks business Brands Report 2012, or click here.

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